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Open Thread 153

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

1. The next virtual SSC meetup will be May 10th, 10:30 AM PDT. Scott Aaronson of Shtetl-Optimized will be giving a talk on a quantum computing topic to be decided later, followed by discussion. See here for more information, especially variations on the theme of “because [last meetup] someone came in the form of a dachshund the size of a small apartment building, I have instituted a rule that you cannot have an avatar larger than an SUV”.

2. The SSC podcast (no extra content, just somebody reading posts) is now available on Spotify at this link.

3. Highlighting some good comments from the Amish health care system post: Sam Chevre’s brother is an Amish/Mennonite deacon and gives us some better numbers. ConstantConstance is also a Mennonite and gives her perspective. Bhalperin is an economist and discusses evidence around what fraction of per capita health spending can be explained by the rise of health insurance (answer: some papers say half, but check the caveats). Matt M on the incentives leading to the rise of health insurance in the US (the 1940s and ’50s had very high taxes on income, so companies tried to find untaxable ways to compensate workers). It was awkward for me to postulate that health insurance made people stop trying to limit their own health care costs, so thanks to those of you who came out and admitted that your health insurance made you stop trying to limit your own health care costs (1, 2).

4. And also some great comments on the uric acid post! Emil Kierkegaard has access to an unpublished study of 4450 Vietnam vets and finds “no relationship of gout to IQ, income, education, and no interactions either.” Yashabird discusses related issues in Lesch-Nyhan syndrome and Tourette’s. Ambimorph is an expert on uricase and refers us to her paper and talk. And testosterone elevates uric acid and seems relevant to questions like who becomes an ambitious executive.

5. Unfortunately, not all comments have reached this level of excellence. Some of the problem is a predictable consequence of the blog getting more publicity because of a few popular articles. But I want to catch this before it gets out of hand. In particular, I’m worried about the thing I see on Twitter, where everyone feels so threatened by people attacking their ideas in really exaggerated ways that they preemptively respond in kind and the temperature goes up and up forever. I’m going to be a little stricter for the next few months to reverse a trend toward that happening here. The first set of victims, some sample offending comments, and the length of ban are:

– Secretly French (1, 2, 3, 4), indefinite
– Jermo Sapiens (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), indefinite.
– An Firinne (1, 2, 3), indefinite.
– HeelBearCub (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), six months.
– Brad (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), six months.
– EchoChaos (1, 2), six months
– HowardHolmes (1), one month
– Clutzy (1), one month
– Alexander Turok (1), one month

This is only about 10% of the people I secretly want to ban, but I am trying to show restraint. People who are on thin ice: Nybbler, Plumber, Le Maistre Chat, ThisHeavenlyCongjugation. You can avoid being banned by consistently following the rules on this page, by trying not to make broad hostile generalizations about groups that contradict their own understand out of nowhere (eg “the only reason to be a Republican is that you hate the poor”, “Democrats say they’re trying to help people, but really they’re just after power”), and by making a common sense effort to keep this a friendly and high-quality place.

Feel free to discuss these bans, but keep in mind that the way I ban people is by putting their screen name into the censorship filter, so you might want to put their name in Pig Latin or stick some random characters in the middle if you mention it in your post.

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1,460 Responses to Open Thread 153

  1. wayanad Empire says:

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  2. smaller says:

    Does Scott Alexander actually read all the comments on this blog? And if so, is this including on the older posts?

    I am just wondering because I am fairly new to reading this blog seriously, and would like to comment on some of the older posts, but some of the comments would probably only be helpful to him.

    In any case, since I’m making this comment anyway, so even if it’s just shouting into the void, I might as well say something:

    I love this blog. There are points that I disagree with, but usually they are small points and they don’t detract at all from my enjoyment of this blog. I have been following pretty closely for the past few months, and I have read a lot of the older posts as well.

    I love Scott’s ability to treat issues with all the seriousness that they deserve, while also keeping things light-hearted and even laugh-out-loud funny at times. I love that the posts are so clearly full of empathy for everyone, even those Scott strongly disagrees with, not just understanding their logic and reasons, but understanding their feelings as well. I love that he can break questions down and put arguments together with such clarity.

    It’s said that one of the definitions of brilliance is the ability to say something and have the people around you immediately know that what you said is true but never have thought about it that way before. A lot of the posts on this blog did that for me. I particularly like Toxoplasma of Rage in this respect.

    I love the fiction pieces–they are hilarious and jaw-droppingly brilliant, and afdnaskgh;f–I just can’t. I think my favourite of the shorter ones might be A Modern Myth, though the ones with the pills was also amazing. And also the Proverbial Murder Mystery. And the one with the blue eyes. Just so many of them, honestly.

    And Unsong. OMG UNSONG. [Possible spoilers for Unsong in this paragraph and the next!] Unsong was so great. I loved Uriel and Sohu. And Erica and Ana, and just everyone. Even the terrorists–they were hilarious. Even the Peter Thiel stand-in–in the end even he was just trying to do what he thought was best for the world, and I definitely did not expect to like him. Heck, even the Biggest Bad was just trying to do some good in the end–he did just enough bad to make the universe exist.

    I actually stayed away from Unsong for a very long time, because I thought it was Rationality Fiction which I’m decidedly not a fan of. And maybe Unsong is Rationality Fiction, maybe it’s not, but I think what really sets it apart for me is that almost all the characters are written with love. Sometimes a teasing and snide kind of love, but palpable love nonetheless.

    I actually first learned about this blog when I was pointed here by some older feminist posts, pointing out how wrong this blog is about stuff, but I feel like even at its most fire-y and anti-feminist, this blog is just so open and understanding, and also humble in a way that so many blogs are not–there’s just a tacit understanding that some things are hard to understand, and just because you can’t understand them doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with them, or you. That kind of humility is so hard to find on any side of pretty much any argument, but especially about topics like feminism.

    As a fairly feminist woman in STEM (though not as much of a firebrand as I used to be), I’m sorry that Scott took so much shit from feminists–people like my younger self, for sure, though many without even the excuse of youth. It’s admirable that despite everything Scott can keep such an open heart and maintain a high level of discourse.

    Anyway, to sum things up: thank you to Scott for a large number of hours of enlightening reading, entertaining stories, eye-opening ideas, and an example of a level of discourse so rarely seen anywhere.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Scott doesn’t read them all. But he reads here and there.

      You won’t be able to comment on old posts. April 8th’s OT doesn’t allow comments but April 5th’s does, suggesting a one-month life time. (This is a common anti-spam strategy lots of blogs use, since spambots would post on year-old posts on a bunch of blogs to create links. I dunno if it’s still needed with modern Google spidering or not.)

      • smaller says:

        Thanks! I figured he wouldn’t, haha, he has so many comments on his posts, and so many of them are so intricate. Also thanks for explaining about why we can’t comment on older posts. That makes a lot of sense.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words.

      You can’t comment on older posts because they auto-lock after thirty days to keep out the spambots, but you’re welcome to post any thoughts about older posts on an Open Thread.

  3. ana53294 says:

    There has been quite a bit of discussion about whether this lockdown will mean more students will start homeschooling after having tried the experience, but so far, it has all been from the parent’s convenience perspective.

    Marginalrevolution linked this essay by an eigth grader. She writes very maturely for her age, and you can see that she knows how to manage her own time with distance learning.

    Kids younger than 12-14 obviously need the babysitting, either by parents or teachers. But could kids who like learning, after having experienced this online schooling heaven, nag and pressure their parents into enrolling them into some kind of distance high school? The parents may not be willing to do the work with homeschooling, but if all the work is done for them, they might let their kids have their way. That would mean that, in cases of families where both parents work outside the home, kids are left alone at home, but as long as they’re as mature as this girl seems, I don’t think it’s that bad.

    • GearRatio says:

      I’d be careful generalizing the middle school student population to the level of that girl.

      I saw that article a couple days ago and my bullshit detector went off, since the average eighth grader isn’t going to have her rudimentary-to-mediocre(I mean this as a complement, it’s great for her age) grasp of adult opinion piece composition. It turns out she’s an actual human who probably has the skills to write that piece(at least with adult assistance), but she got them here, at an upscale all-girls camp of the kind that has a full-fledged dance and gymnastics program, an indoor natural-grass soccer field, and a journalism program. It’s in MA and costs $13k to attend.

      This doesn’t tell us everything about the child, but it tells us she has an unusually high level of parental support and that her parents have the kind of resources that enable one to send their children to a camp that costs as much as a semester of graduate school tuition at ASU.

      It’s probably not a good idea to use an affluent tween journalism-nerd as the standard for “would distance learning work for an unsupervised child”, since the remaining 99.9% of children aren’t necessarily similar. A child doesn’t absolutely need those kinds of resources and personality to successfully school themselves, but it helps, and that’s before we start analyzing what kind of resources she has access to at the kind of schools her parents are likely sending her to when she’s home for the year.

      • ana53294 says:

        Sure, but even getting 0.1% of 59 million is a lot.

        And improving the status of online education/homeschooling among those types of parents in general increases the status of homeschooling.

        IMO, every kid saved from the jail that is school is a great thing.

      • Dragor says:

        Your point is absolutely valid, but playing off ana53294, it would be awesome to make distancing education more convenient for those high achieving and/or aspie kids it suits.

        I was homeschooled until 9th grade and the idea of wanting to do this weird “socializing” thing rather than focusing on learning was kinda weird to me when I started highschool. I believe I wrote a couple 15 page papers with loose guidance in the context of a charter school class. I look some of the amenities kids have now that would allow younger me to learn stuff he was interested in without navigating weird the weird sociopolitical minefield that is in person education and I’m like damn.

        • Garrett says:

          Counter-anecdote:

          I hated elementary school and mostly was fine with high school. Despite being in the social environment I mostly avoided socialization stuff until I left highschool or college, really.

          In retrospect I *really* wish I had known how important that would be and to have spent a lot more time/effort trying to get good at it when I was that age. It’s fairly easy for me to keep learning as an adult if I’m interested. But it’s really hard to catch up on social dynamics.

          • ana53294 says:

            Knowing that it’s important doesn’t mean you’ll learn it, though. And when you’re a teenager, all your feelings of shame and inadequacy are amplified x100.

            It’s easier to learn social skills when everything is not the end of the world. And when you can get embarrased by trying something (say, ask a pretty girl out), without that being the bane of your existence for your entire high school life.

            As an adult, you can always leave any company. That means you have wider range to experiment and test what works for you, without making your life unbearable.

        • alchemy29 says:

          It’s a common concern that kids won’t learn to socialize if they are home schooled. Useless anecdote, I had pretty much no friends and no social life from elementary school to high school. I had lots of close friends in college and didn’t find socializing particularly difficult or stressful. Now that I’m an adult with a fairly successful career, I’m back to having no social life and the thought of going to social events with coworkers makes me groan. I don’t really have a good hypothesis to draw from this. Perhaps – social skills are weird, not very transferable and it might be more important to actually be around people that you find it worth socializing with. Curious to hear other perspectives on this.

          • Kids who are home schooled and have little interaction outside of the family will learn social skills within that bubble, but the family culture may be quite different from what they encounter later. That’s a disadvantage, balancing what some families see as an advantage of home schooling, the superiority of their family culture to the culture of the school.

            But home schooling families can, and often do, arrange for lots of non-school socializing. A home schooled kid could join the Boy Scouts, attend SCA events with his parents, socialize with other home schooled kids in one of their houses or a public park. Our son ran a weekly D&D game, with participants of a range of ages.

            A kid going to school may still fail to develop an adequate level of social skills. I think that was true of me. I identified much more strongly with my family culture than with the school culture, continue to be bothered by the failure of many people I interact with to behave in the ways my family culture would imply and doubtless offend people by not behaving in the way their culture would expect.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      As Tyler Cowen would put it, the status of both teachers and home schooling parents is going to go up because of this.

      Kids that are high on conscientiousness will do great on distance learning. Those with ADHD will get destroyed by it.

      • zoozoc says:

        I think it is kids without parental support who get destroyed. Kids with ADHD might do better at home than in a classroom. Classrooms are not flexible to the needs of kids with ADHD. Learning at home can be done in a much more relaxed and flexible manner and different types of learning can be employed that couldn’t in a classroom with a bunch of kids.

      • Dragor says:

        Iono man, I feel like for some kids inattentivity is a socially reinforced behavior. That’s how it was for me anyway, and I’ve seen that with students.

  4. johan_larson says:

    There are many types of solitaire (card solitaire, patience) out there, with Klondike being the most common one. Unfortunately Klondike it has a couple of problems. There are rarely any real decisions to make, and the game is frustratingly difficult to complete. What are some better types of solitaire?

    I rather like Golf. There seem to be more decisions to make, between stringing together sequences of cards in the current round and trying to set up sequences in following rounds. And the chance of completing a hand is just plain higher than in Klondike.

    • ec429 says:

      I’m a fan of Gaps, or rather AisleRiot’s version of it which might actually be one of the other Montana variants. But it sounds from what you say about Klondike as though you’d dislike Montana even more; there’s only a few strategic moments per game and the completion rate (for me, at least) is only about 20%.

      • Nick says:

        There’s a variant of Gaps called Kings End I like a lot. The completion rate is higher, and you can pursue different strategies.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Golf’s a good game, but my favorite is Four Seasons: interesting decision-making, reasonable winning chances, and the starting layout sets up quickly.

    • Nick says:

      I’m a fan of Calculation and Kings End.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I’m a fan of FreeCell. Good amount of decisions to make, full information, and near-guaranteed solvability.

      • Nick says:

        near-guaranteed solvability

        I actually hit one of the unsolvable puzzles on an online version. 😀

      • keaswaran says:

        I play a lot of Free Cell on my phone, but I impose a handicap. I don’t allow myself to send any cards up to the finishing piles until I’ve got them all sorted into four stacks from King down to Ace in the main board. I can’t quite tell if my successful completion rate with this handicap is more like 10% or more like 50%, but it makes it a much more interesting challenge. Sometimes, if I get pretty far into the development of a board but then get stuck, I will send one or two aces up, and that strategic use of these extra spaces usually lets me solve the board. (I make very liberal use of the “undo” or “back” button.)

    • KieferO says:

      Hands down, freecell is my favorite. Much has been written on the difficulty, the summary of which is that almost every (~31999/32000) deal is possible, but otherwise, there’s a nicely linear progression of difficulty. It’s definitely less tedious to play on a computer.

    • Luke G says:

      I’m a fan of Spider Solitaire. The strategy is a lot deeper than it first appears: there are very consequential choices to be made with which stacks you bury and which you clean out. Without undos, you can win ~70% with 2-suits, and ~25% with 4 suits. Some fraction of the games are easy wins or quick losses, but enough games feel “close” that it stays engaging for me.

      If you really want to tax your brain, FreeCell is perfect information. You can win approximately every game, but that requires exceptional planning. If you’re trying to win, you might just stare at the screen for 10 minutes, planning out the game, before you make your first move.

  5. AlesZiegler says:

    I remember that I´ve read few years ago that there is some economics study claiming that recessions following financial crises tend to be longer and generally worse than other types of recessions. Of course this is very relevant to the current debate about the costs of lockdowns, since it is evident that they are causing the mother of all financial crises, defined as households and firms mass defaulting on their obligations.

    Intuitively it makes sense. According to a standard keynesian (or just standard without k-word?) framework, recessions are usually in some sense caused by the fall in demand for capital. When fall in demand for capital goods falls, their producers respond by curtailing production, thus resulting in unemployment and associated fall in demand for consumption. But people know that recession will end eventually, with demand for capital goods rising again.

    So when demand for capital falls because e.g. stock bubble bursting, demand for exports falling, or central bank driven credit tightening, someone with money at hand would want to buy up loads of capital goods at a discount, thus putting a floor on its price decline. But banks that provide money for that are themselves dependent on payments from debtors. With mass defaults, banks don’t have money (in financial jargon, liquidity is lacking), so prices of capital goods fall much further.

    It is an appealing story and I am inclined to believe it, but at the same time there is an obvious confounder that with worsening recession defaults will increase, so perhaps causality runs in an opposite direction.

    With regards to The Bans, I´d like to plead for restoring commenting of HBC and EC. HBC is one of the few of us regular left-leaning commenters and there was an affirmative action policy for leftwingers, so we do not feel overwhelmed by an effect of a rightwing echochamber, right? And EC was banned quite selectively for two mildly sarcastic jabs. I feel that I could find many a worse dunking on outgroups from not-banned regulars, although I am not quite willing to go through an unedifying job of digging them up. In addition I had consistently found him to be not only actually most polite but also most interesting from reactionaries regularly commenting here.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I don’t know much about EC, but I agree that HBC should be restored — perhaps not immediately, if he did indeed post something super offensive, but in a reasonable amount of time.

    • Atlas says:

      I remember that I´ve read few years ago that there is some economics study claiming that recessions following financial crises tend to be longer and generally worse than other types of recessions.

      A theory (which seems convincing to me) associated with Walter Bagehot/Hyman Minsky/Charles Kindleberger.

    • Iago the Yerfdog says:

      Agreed on EC, but example 5 for HBC was a straight-up attack on a fellow commenter, so I’m hesitant to agree.

      I’m not sure I agree with the Great Dino Hunter (AT) ban if the the given comment was the only example.

    • Jon S says:

      I’m ~75% sure that, at this point, this doesn’t count as a financial crisis in this context. Banks are doing okay, there aren’t runs on deposits or anything like that. Nobody thinks their cash isn’t safe.

      • keaswaran says:

        Exactly. The 2008 crisis was specifically precipitated by certain financial instruments (mortgage-backed securities) being discovered to have a lower value than expected (because of correlations in the underlying mortgages that weren’t appropriately calculated). The current crisis may end up causing problems for financial institutions, but is about as non-financial as it is possible for an economic crisis to be – certain real services just suddenly lost a lot of value because they are ways to transmit a virus as well as the underlying experience.

      • LesHapablap says:

        I’m not a finance expert at all but here in NZ the unemployment is going to result in a lot of home foreclosures. Is that not a problem in the US, or is that not generally a big problem compared to 2008?

        • keaswaran says:

          Has the New Zealand government not imposed a moratorium on foreclosures, or a bailout to individuals who have lost income? My understanding is that most developed world governments have done one or both, though there are still likely to be a spike of foreclosures and bankruptcies that go through anyway (but hopefully a much smaller number than in 2008).

          • baconbits9 says:

            The Us has instituted some forbearances on mortgages but that is simply a pause in the payments, not a reduction and many people are in line to have to pay the full amount that they have missed in a lump sum once the grace period is up. Further the US can only force forbearance through federally backed loans and while some non federally backed loans have allowed forbearance I believe it is for a minority of privately held mortgages.

            The mid April estimate for the US was that 5.5% of mortgages (~3.4 million) were in forbearance.

  6. Uribe says:

    My takeaway from the bannings is “If you argue with someone who is uncivil, you are 9/10ths the way to incivility yourself.”

    • Anteros says:

      I disagree.

      If you only interact with those who are civil, what is your civility worth? Keeping your civility while those around you are losing theirs is a very great feat indeed. It is effort and takes work. I would suggest that work of this kind is the bread and butter of spiritual development. Avoiding it is like a monk hiding from the difficult world in their cell, yet claiming to be a Christian.

      • John Schilling says:

        Seems like it would be worth a great deal to people who have generally civil forums and are trying to keep them so. If civil people interact only with other civil people, then by process of exclusion the uncivil people are interacting only with other uncivil people, easily recognized (see any EC/HBC back-and-forth) and excluded. And if some of these people are intermittently civil, engaging them only when they act in a civil fashion encourages them to respond in kind, whereas engaging with their incivility mostly just encourages them to score cheap points.

        If the idea is that behaving in a civil manner towards the uncivilized will by its example encourage them to join your civil society, congratulations on having discovered the basic principle of the missionary. Who usually does his best work by going out to the uncivilized parts of the world and engaging with people on their home ground – not by inviting the uncivil into the civilized world without even remedial education in civility, and pretended we all don’t care about their incivility.

        So take your particular brand of virtue, and go someplace where it is needed. We’ll still be here when you need some R&R.

        • albatross11 says:

          OTOH, there is a long history in the US and other places of bringing the uncivilized (for some value of uncivilized) into a working culture and more-or-less assimilating them to mainstream culture. The US has managed this with many waves of immigrants who often came from very poor rural backgrounds, though the process went both ways (US culture changed some), the huge waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, etc., largely assimilated to mainstream US values and became Americans with some grandparents who speak another language.

          This continues today–we get immigrants from El Salvador or Guatemala or wherever, and their kids usually assimilate to something like US culture. There are underclass gangs among the kids of those communities, too, and I think that’s been historically common (Italian, Irish, and Jewish mafias definitely existed). But I think over time most of the kids and grandkids become Americans with slightly darker skin and relatives further south.

        • Anteros says:

          @John Schilling

          I’m sorry my thoughts about civility irritated you enough for you to wish me to take my particular brand of virtue and go someplace where it is needed.

          Surely civility is, to a considerable extent, in the eye of the beholder. We often perceive sarcasm, snarkiness, put-downs etc more often than they are intended and so temperatures rise and civility dissipates.

          My point, which I may have expressed poorly, was that simply to disengage when there is a perceived lack of civility is missing the ethos of this blog. I had David Friedman, as well as Scott himself, as examples of people who go the extra mile in engaging with others who could easily be seen to be interacting aggressively or uncivilly.

          The charitableness that Scott talks about is something that I think requires a great deal of effort. And it comes into play the moment another’s comment seems lacking in civility. It might only be a first step – I’m not recommending missionary zeal or fawning subservience to anyone – but isn’t that what characterizes civil discourse from the usual chaos and mud-slinging we see all over the internet?

  7. JohnBuridan says:

    There is no pun on this week’s Open Thread which is sad, because 153 is such a nice number: “Better Thread than Dead”, though.

  8. Iago the Yerfdog says:

    I just learned that one of the medications I take has a $7.98 copay for a 30-day supply, but is $24.00 for a 90-day supply — which is what the prescription is written for — without insurance. Insurance won’t cover the 90 day supply.

    So I’m saving 6 cents at the cost of picking up my prescription three times as often. And I’ve been on this medication for more than a year and only now learned about this. And only because they accidentally tried to fill it twice.

    Sometimes I can’t even.

    • theredsheep says:

      I work in a pharmacy. It would be much easier if it were possible to get a clear idea how much insurance charges ahead of time. But the only way to find out how much it will cost is to bill it, which means that exploring the various prices requires us to bill one way, reverse the claim, bill the other way, possibly reverse the claim and bill the third way, etc. It’s a nuisance, and we’re short on time because few pharmacies staff enough people to really meet demand properly. The margins are too tight.

      I suspect what happened in your case was that the tech who got the script tried to bill to insurance for ninety days, got a big old NO result, switched to thirty days, saw it went through, and moved on to the next script in her big backlog pile. Depending where you get your script filled and what software they use, she might not have even had access to the default price. We do at my store, but we understand that the “cash” price is pretty much BS in most cases, which is why discount cards are a thing. We pay more attention to our own costs.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        That’s fair. And even if the software were looking for the cheapest price, well, that would be the $7.98/month over the $24/3 months. I will just have to be more proactive in future about asking about prices when I’m buying generics.

      • Garrett says:

        Is there a way to find out the details of what products a pharmacy carries other than to phone them and ask really annoying, detailed questions? For some of the medications I vary occasionally use, I prefer individually-wrapped versions rather than loose units. As an example, I know that albuterol solution is available in unit-of-use packaging (it’s what I use on the ambulance). But I’ve also seen the gigantic bricks which get supplied to people with a prescription which probably should be discarded after having been opened for a while. Which is a gigantic amount of waste and makes it difficult to carry around a single unit or two.

        But going up to every pharmacy and asking if they have (or can get) $DRUG in $PACKAGING is time consuming. Doing it over the phone saves the trip but leaves me in hold-music hell.

        • Lambert says:

          Does their website list perscription only stuff?

        • theredsheep says:

          I can’t recall ever seeing the big bricks you describe. It’s always either individual packets or five-packs inside the boxes, at hospital and retail pharmacies.

  9. detroitdan says:

    As far as I can tell, “monetary policy”, as commonly thought of by educated people these days, is nonsense. Yet, intelligent people like Scott Alexander seem to believe in it.

    CHALLENGE: Provide a brief description of what monetary policy is and why it makes sense as a way of steering the economy.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      When have I ever expressed any opinion on monetary policy?

      • detroitdan says:

        You made a recent post quoting Scott Sumner who thinks monetary policy is all that is needed to steer the economy. That’s what got me thinking about the subject.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Do you mean the Open Thread where I included the sentence “Economist Scott Sumner, an expert on the Great Depression, wrote a great post explaining exactly how Hoover was vs. wasn’t to blame”?

          • detroitdan says:

            yes

          • Skeptic says:

            Dan,

            Scott quoting Scott Sumner on Hoover in a long form blogpost is not an endorsement of Market Monetarism.

            Also that’s not a very accurate reading of Sumner nor Market Monetarism.

            Edited for grammar

    • uau says:

      CHALLENGE: Provide a brief description of what monetary policy is and why it makes sense as a way of steering the economy.

      At what level of detail? I think a description like “manage fiat currency so that it keeps a reasonable value – avoid deflation and hyperinflation” is not nonsense at the very least…

      • detroitdan says:

        @uau

        I agree that your description is not nonsense. Good job.

        Having said that, I would prefer a bit more detail, such as how monetary policy works to manage a fiat currency.

    • Uribe says:

      Monetary policy is managing the money supply to keep prices stable. It is needed because demand for money is not stable.

      It does not steer the economy.

      • detroitdan says:

        @uribe

        Thanks for the response.

        How does monetary policy keep prices stable? My view is that it doesn’t. Rather, fiscal policy and banking regulation are the main factors in keeping prices stable (or making them unstable). Monetary policy involves only tinkering with interest rates, which is generally insignificant. Occasionally, “monetary policy” gets into buying private assets such as mortgages, but is that really “monetary”?

        • Uribe says:

          I’m no economist or expert, so I’ll give you my simple understanding and say no more.

          My simple understanding is that (other than the overnight rate) , the Fed manipulates the money supply and changes in interest rates are the result of that.

          Only that’s not really true. Since the Fed can change the money supply, it doesn’t need to. When the Fed says it’s raising or lowering rates, this is mostly a *threat* to change the money supply, a threat it can credibly make since it has the power to change the money supply. It’s like holding a gun in a movie. People just do what you say after that because maybe you will shoot them, but usually you don’t have to.

          So it’s not about tinkering with interest rates. It’s about threatening ,implicitly, to change the money supply.

          Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

          • detroitdan says:

            @Uribe,

            Thanks again.

            My understanding is that the central bank doesn’t manage the money supply. It manages interest rates by exchanging time deposits (government bills and bonds) for demand deposits (checking accounts). Both are forms of money.

            So what exactly can the central bank threaten to do that would affect the economy?

          • Luke G says:

            @detroitdan

            Bills/bonds and checking accounts are not equal forms of money though. At the end of the day, banks need to pay their bills with their checking accounts. When I go to the ATM, I expect cash to come out, not TBills!

            When interest rates are lower, banks are incentivized to turn their TBills into cash, which they use to lend or invest, which expands the money supply. When interest rates are higher, banks are incentivized to lend less and hold TBills instead, contracting the money supply.

            (Interest rates are only a crude tool for controlling money supply, and so when times require it, you’ll see central banks reach for other tools as well, such as quantitative easing.)

            This is all really oversimplified, but it’s directionally correct. Bank funding is somewhat complicated, and bank regulations also play a critical role in all this (particularly, what reserves a bank needs to hold is a hard restriction on what lending a bank can do). I don’t know the best resources to learn this stuff, but you could do worse than reading some publications by the Fed, e.g. https://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/monetary-policy/

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, I’d love to read a Scott-authored article on monetary policy; not because of any kind of “CHALLENGE”, but just because I think it would be interesting.

      • detroitdan says:

        To be honest, I don’t think Scott understands money very well. My understanding is that Modern Monetary Theory is not just a theory, but rather a very accurate description of how the modern monetary system works. But most others, including Scott I’d guess, seem to think that it works through fractional reserve banking and loanable funds.

        • Atlas says:

          To be honest, I don’t think Scott understands money very well.

          Does anyone?

          • GearRatio says:

            This was my reaction as well – who is coming here to hear financial/money policy advice from Scott? I’m struggling to remember times he’s talked about money, and all I’m coming up with is one time when he mentioned that it was weird to him to find out that some people have trouble affording dependable cars. He doesn’t exactly present himself as Adam Smith.

          • detroitdan says:

            @Atlas

            Yes, the school of economics known as Modern Monetary Theory understands money very well, in my opinion. Please see MMT Brief Description.

            @GearRatio
            “Who is coming here to hear financial/money policy advice from Scott?”

            My perspective is that Scott is an intelligent and well educated person who doesn’t understand money and banking, and that this is typical of our society. People come here to discuss the state of knowledge in society, and to look beyond the conventional wisdom.

        • ReaperReader says:

          The issue with MMT is not what it describes but what it leaves out. Including the pretty important concept that what matters for most desirable areas of government activity is not the money per se but the transfer of real resurces: teachers for example need food and shelter, paying teachers in money is merely a convenient way of enabling that transfer of real resources.

          • detroitdan says:

            @ReaperReader

            ReaperReader– What you say is not left out of MMT. Au contraire, MMT is quite clear that real resources provide the major constraint on a government’s ability to manage the economy. I don’t know where you got the idea that MMT is oblivious to real resources.

            Anyway, thanks for the response.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, here was I thinking that Scott was just the tiniest bit heavy-handed with the banning, when up rocks yourself with your pet hobbyhorse to flog, and once again I find myself in agreement that the Rightful Caliph may do as he wills on his own blog.

          Stan Magic Money Tree all you like, but can you please not insult other commentators who are replying in good faith to your questions, or the host of this blog?

          • ana53294 says:

            Yeah, that comment fulfills none of the three criteria. I think most of the comments were protesting the length of bans of established posters who have a history of providing thoughtful comments, even if sometimes they engage in CW. This one seems much less familiar, and a lot more personal.

        • baconbits9 says:

          My understanding is that Modern Monetary Theory is not just a theory, but rather a very accurate description of how the modern monetary system works

          According to a small subset of economists who think MMT is correct.

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Lowering interest rates can steer the economy by forcing money out of bank accounts and into riskier investments? Off the top of my head?

      Is your argument whether the effect exists, or whether it can be known/predicted in advance?

      • detroitdan says:

        @Belisaurus Rex

        I think you’re basically correct. Monetary policy is all about the risk free rate of interest in the economy. If the risk free interest rate is negative, for example, then the theory is that people will go to extremes to find riskier investments. In practice, it doesn’t seem to work that way as interest rates around the world have been stuck around zero for more than a decade.

        So the effect doesn’t seem signficant.

        • Skeptic says:

          I don’t have time to do an effortpost on how monetary policy works. So for a quick take on where I believe you are mistaken:

          Risk-free rate: this is entirely theoretical and does not exist. Do you mean the FFR? These are not the same thing.

          Interest rates: “interest rates” are an effect of monetary policy, not the policy lever or cause. You have cause/effect backwards. This would plausibly need an entire effortpost to explain.

          Prices: the price level is due to monetary policy. Banking regulation has nothing to do with economy wide prices. Are you thinking of demand effects based on consumer access to credit? Not sure where you’re going with that one.

          Steering the economy: I’ve never seen anyone make this claim. Are you extrapolating from the idea of NGDP level targeting?

          Fiscal policy: does not impact the price level, since it is set by monetary policy. If CB x targets price level Y, there will be an offset due to any fiscal policy undertaken to keep price level at Y.

          Currency: the value of a currency is set by supply and demand

          • Jliw says:

            Can you recommend some reading material on this subject in general?

          • Skeptic says:

            Jliw,

            Market monetarism is a further technical refinement of the already brilliant insights of both Milton Friedman and his wife Anna Schwartz. Note this great leap in economics is orthogonal to all of the political and ideological debates that surround Dr. Friedman, so any ideological or political priors can safely be laid aside.

            If you have an undergraduate or master’s degree in economics, skip straight to Monetary History of the United States. Then read Sumner’s further technical development of their insights.

            If not, it’s a bit of a slog. To understand where they’re coming from it’s easier of you are fully knowledgeable in basic macro, the IS-LM model (Hicks-Hanson), and the disagreements between Neo-Keynesian and Neo-classical econ.

            Easiest route: Mankiw Macro, one of many Money and Banking or Financial Economics textbooks, and then Monetary History.

            Prof David Friedman can probably steer you in a better direction?

            Edited for @DavidFriedman

          • Milton Friedman and his wife Anna Schwartz.

            My father was married to Rose Director Friedman. Anna was his long term collaborator, not his wife.

          • Skeptic says:

            Oooof.

            Apologies

          • detroitdan says:

            @Skeptic

            Obviously, we subscribe to totally different schools of economics. Here’s a brief description of mine:

            There are 2 aspects of MMT:

            1. MMT is an improved (much clearer and more straightforward) description of how existing monetary and banking systems work.
            2. MMT proposes a government job guarantee (employer of last resort) as a tool to reduce unemployment and act as an automatic fiscal stabilizer with regard to inflation. (Note that we already have valuable automatic fiscal stabilizers in the form of income taxes and welfare benefits.)

            #2 is substantially untested. #1 is unassailable as it is just a description of how things work.

            Here’s a chart I drew showing the evolution of selected economic schools, with MMT being the focus: Evolution of Selected Economic Schools

            Note that MMT draws from institutional economics (recognizing the role of large institutions as well as classical markets), chartalism (the basics of fiat currency), Keynesianism, financial instability considerations, and a sectoral balance perspective (accounting based economics).

            I also wrote something of a The National “Debt” for Dummies — not intended to be condescending but rather to be easy to understand: The Socrates Show, with guest Pete Peterson.

            The best textbook presentation of MMT economics that I have seen is Eric Tymoigne’s Money and Banking.

          • sharper13 says:

            @detroitdan,

            Would you please reply to the arguments in this post or perhaps this article or this one by providing a reference to empirical evidence which supports the MMT ideas regarding inflation?

        • Luke G says:

          The reason why interest rates are stuck at zero is not because they don’t work, but because they’re fighting against some very strong opposing effects.

          In particular I’d highlight the increased reserve requirements for banks. Post-2008 regulatory changes reduced the leverage available for banks. This would’ve caused a substantial contraction in monetary supply were it not counteracted by all the central bank efforts.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The reason why interest rates are stuck at zero is not because they don’t work, but because they’re fighting against some very strong opposing effects.

            In particular I’d highlight the increased reserve requirements for banks. Post-2008 regulatory changes reduced the leverage available for banks. This would’ve caused a substantial contraction in monetary supply were it not counteracted by all the central bank efforts.

            So what were the issues prior to the 2008 changes that lead to decreasing interest rates? The federal funds rate has been decreasing since ~1980, with lower lows and lower highs for every cycle, and the FFR effectively hit zero in 2008 before these requirements came into play.

    • yodelyak says:

      If we’re using a moving vehicle as a metaphor for the economy, I think “steering” the economy is nothing any Western central economist/banker really expects to do, or at least not well. Private capital chasing returns plus entrepreneurs plus technology advancement are the engine *and* the steering, and the economy ‘steers’ wherever technology/entrepreneurs can find returns.

      But continuing the vehicle metaphor, I think the idea of monetary policy and monetary stimulus are in the vein of a) keeping the wheels on and, if you get fancy, b) greasing/improving the wheelbase. If you allow currency inflation/deflation, or credit crunches / rate uncertainty so acute that they freeze existing sectors of the economy, that’s the wheels coming off. E.g., it was reported that a result of the 2008 crash was a period where regular people couldn’t buy cars on credit, and car sales tanked, for a multi-month-long period. Effects like that play forward through the economy, e.g. no car sales means more people not going to work, a lot of car salesmen not making money, a lot of car manufacturers sitting on extra inventory, and this effect hit several other sectors allso, and all of them were tightening belts to avoid liquidity problems, and that tightening caused further hits to other sectors… those shocks can pile up and cause a ‘crash’, rather like if the wheels on the front couple train cars came off, and the rest of the train started crashing into itself all along its length. Monetary policy is very much not a controversial thing, from what I was able to gather as an undergrad econ major at an Ivy League 10 years ago. The *limits* of monetary policy are very much in doubt, and where it interacts with things like long-term employment/unemployment, or whether government savings displaces private savings–there’s tons of things that aren’t clear. But it’s clear that access to credit, low/stable inflation, and stable interest rates (and more I don’t know about) function sort of like ‘wheels’ in an economy-as-train metaphor.

      Fiscal policy, and ‘fiscal stimulus’ are more controversial ideas. Does government savings displace private savings? Does government borrowing affect the interest rate that private borrowers pay? Should the government borrow aggressively at the start of a recession, in order to spend aggressively? One obvious thing that often happens in recessions is local and state governments see tax revenue and other revenues drop precipitously, and consequently lay off double-digit fractions of their workforce, potentially accelerating the train-car-pile-up problem. Should local governments attempt to save for rainy days, and avoid layoffs or even try to boost their hiring during crashes? Here the arguments range much more widely, and with less clear data or logic, and many more places where political philosophy creeps in.

      • Uribe says:

        I agree with that. In recent years, because monetary policy has become political, there seems to be this notion among some that monetary policy can goose the economy. I suppose if the wheels are falling off the train with sparks flying, securing the wheels amounts to– relatively speaking and to mix metaphors–goosing the economy.

      • detroitdan says:

        @yodelyak

        Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        I was hoping for something a bit briefer, so I won’t have time to respond to everything you wrote.

        Many if not most economists seem to think they can steer the economy using monetary policy, but I agree this is not possible as monetary policy in modern economies just consists of buying and selling government debt in order to tweak the risk free interest rate.

        Fiscal policy, in my view, is much more powerful thought limited by the ability of the government to collect taxes and mobilize resources.

        • ReaperReader says:

          Many if not most economists seem to think they can steer the economy using monetary policy,

          Can you state a source for this? Monetary neutrality is a topic of live debate in economic theory. (Of course “many” is a vague term).

          • detroitdan says:

            @ReaperReader

            1. Are you saying that monetary policy cannot be used to steer the economy? If that is correct, then what is monetary policy good for? (perhaps we are in agreement that it’s not an effective policy tool for managing the economy)

            2. Regarding monetary neutrality, here is a post with detailed consideration of the matter: Money is not a Neutral Veil. The short answer is that money is integral to capitalism. Specifically:

            The general idea of monetary production is that the economic system under which we live, variously described as capitalism or the market economy, and which has existed in one form or another since the industrial revolution is, in fact, pre-eminently a monetary system.

            Those responsible for setting production in train, whether they are entrepreneurs or corporations, must first acquire monetary resources by borrowing, selling equity, or previous (financial) accumulation before they can do so. The ultimate proceeds of productive activity from the subsequent sale of goods and services are also sums of money. Intuitively therefore in such an environment, and contrary to the point of view that money does not matter, the functioning of the monetary system takes on major significance. In particular, the ‘terms on which’ … the monetary resources for production are obtainable (that is, the rate of interest) would seem to be of vital importance.

    • Erusian says:

      I have to say, calling Scott a monetarist is the funniest attempt at an insult I’ve heard. I mean that seriously: I laughed.

      Anyway: Monetary policy is the government’s policy towards the money supply. In our system, the government has created a central bank (the Federal Reserve). Lending money is equivalent to creating money, so the Reserve creates money. Private banks do it too but are required to have a minimum reserve, while the Federal Reserve doesn’t. This means that banks can run out of money to lend but the Reserve can’t, so when the other banks hit their limits they can go to the Reserve. Likewise, the Reserve can buy or sell open market assets. Monetary policy doesn’t steer the economy, for example TARP was a treasury program and thus was a fiscal policy. So is the CARES act.

      • detroitdan says:

        @Erusian

        I guess I don’t know much about Scott’s views of the monetary system. My impression is that he doesn’t understand it, but I could have missed something.

        Thanks for taking me up on my “challenge”. I agree with your first two statements.

        “Lending money is equivalent to creating money, so the Reserve creates money”. I don’t think this is quite right. The central bank (Federal Reserve) creates money to buy government debt. That is not really lending money as commonly understood.

        “Private banks do it too but are required to have a minimum reserve, while the Federal Reserve doesn’t.” Yes. But private banks can acquire (borrow) reserves as needed to satisfy minimum reserve requirements. Other countries with comparable financial systems, such as Canada, do not even bother with the reserve requirements.

        I mostly agree with the rest of what you wrote. Basically, countries have unlimited supplies of money which is provided by central banks. The money is spent into the economy via fiscal policy (and taxed out of the economy via fiscal policy). Monetary policy is just the mechanism by which fiscal policy is implemented.

        • Erusian says:

          I don’t think this is quite right. The central bank (Federal Reserve) creates money to buy government debt. That is not really lending money as commonly understood.

          No, it doesn’t. The Federal reserve doesn’t magic money up out of nowhere and pay it out to make purchases: it takes on debt to make the purchase. The literal operation is usually that every bank owes the Reserve money, so the Reserve takes the government bonds from the bank and in exchange gives a credit on its loan. It’s like forgiving a loan payment in exchange for some in-kind consideration.

          Knowing that you’re going full MMT: What happens when the bank no longer owes the central reserve anything? What happens when the government can’t even create the debt to buy because no one is buying it?

          Yes. But private banks can acquire (borrow) reserves as needed to satisfy minimum reserve requirements. Other countries with comparable financial systems, such as Canada, do not even bother with the reserve requirements.

          Yes, but those are loans, meaning there is a limit and it’s unwise to do so if the loan will not be productive. This is true even without a reserve requirement. (Also, Canada does, iirc, have capital requirements, which effectively serves the same purpose.)

          Basically, countries have unlimited supplies of money which is provided by central banks. The money is spent into the economy via fiscal policy (and taxed out of the economy via fiscal policy). Monetary policy is just the mechanism by which fiscal policy is implemented.

          Nope. Not even close. I know that’s where MMT wants economics to go but it simply doesn’t go there.

          Countries don’t have an unlimited supply of money: they have a finite supply of money but can create more. There are important implications to this on savings and price levels. If the money supply rapidly expands, you see effects on both.

          Money is not created in a centralized manner but created and destroyed by economic operations in the society. When I let someone buy a piece of art I made with a promise to pay installments, I have just (personally) created money. The Federal Reserve’s unique superpower is that it can do so until the US dollar collapses, but anyone can do it.

          Money isn’t “spent” into the economy. It’s created through debt. This means that the US deficit actually creates money when the US borrows. But this is the same mechanism as how mortgages create money. You could equally have a government where government spending doesn’t create money, by having a balanced or surplus budget.

          Money is not taxed out of the economy by fiscal policy. It would be if the government taxed the money out and put it in a giant Scrooge McDuck vault, but the government spends every dollar it takes in. This means the money does not exit the economy: instead it’s reallocated. The social worker gets paid and spends the money. The government takes a tax bite but it spends that money too. The only way to take money out of the economy (other than by reducing debt) is to save it without investing it. And by “not investing” I mean stuffing it under your mattress.

          Monetary policy and fiscal policy affect each other. I do tend to see fiscal policy as more important but monetary policy is independent, or at least its own thing.

          You could have a fiscal-driven monetary policy, where the government creates money by taking on debt and destroys it by taxing it and then effectively eliminating the money. It’s not obvious to me what the advantage of this would be. It wouldn’t inherently enable more government spending: the government would have to not spend money it taxed in proportion to the debt it took out in order to not cause runaway inflation.

          • detroitdan says:

            @Erusian

            ” The Federal reserve doesn’t magic money up out of nowhere and pay it out to make purchases: it takes on debt to make the purchase.”

            This is factually wrong. The Fed credits bank accounts with money and takes possession of “debt” in exchange. They sway demand deposits for time deposits.

          • Erusian says:

            This is factually wrong. The Fed credits bank accounts with money and takes possession of “debt” in exchange. They sway demand deposits for time deposits.

            No, I’m afraid this is one of the few topics I do know something about. You’re misunderstanding what “credits their account” means. It doesn’t mean they send the bank money, it means they decrease the balance the bank owes them. In other words, they add a credit to their account at the Fed. If the bank needs actual cash from the Fed, it borrows it at the discount window.

            The Fed then owns the debt (and the interest payments etc), which it gets in exchange for the bank not owing the Fed as much money as it otherwise would.

          • bonewah says:

            Full disclosure, I am not an MMT adherent. Question for you, you say
            “The only way to take money out of the economy (other than by reducing debt) is to save it without investing it. And by “not investing” I mean stuffing it under your mattress.”
            Wouldnt debt default also take money out of the economy? Or bankruptcy for that matter? Or is that what you meant by reducing debt?

          • ReaperReader says:

            @bonewah: if someone loans you money, you have more money and they have less. If you repay the money, you then have less money and they have more. If you default instead, that means you keep the the money and your lender doesn’t get it. (This is ignoring subsequent transactions, e.g. if the reason you defaulted is that you gambled away all of the loan at your local casino then obviously the casino keeps the money.)

          • Erusian says:

            Full disclosure, I am not an MMT adherent. Question for you, you say
            “The only way to take money out of the economy (other than by reducing debt) is to save it without investing it. And by “not investing” I mean stuffing it under your mattress.”
            Wouldnt debt default also take money out of the economy? Or bankruptcy for that matter? Or is that what you meant by reducing debt?

            Yes, debt default would take money out of the economy. So would a bankruptcy. So would paying off a debt normally. Money is destroyed every time you make a credit card payment.

            Think of it like this. Let’s say I have two dollars. How much money is there in the economy? Two dollars. I want to buy bonewah’s delicious Bonewah soup. Normally it costs a dollar but you agree to let me have it on credit: I can have the soup now but I have to give you $.10 a month for the next twelve months. I take the deal. I still have one dollar. You have a debt which is worth $1.20 (ignoring time value of money for simplicity). How much money is there in the economy? $3.20. Okay, I pay you back $1.20. How much money is there in the economy? Well, I now have $.80 and you have $1.20, so two dollars.

            We have just created, then destroyed, $1.20.

            Money is debt. The origin of paper money is literally as debt slips: you gave the bank some gold or whatever and they gave you a piece of paper saying they owed you a relevant debt. This remained the case until 1973. Since 1973, this debt is against the income of the government of the United States (or whatever relevant country).

          • ec429 says:

            Money is debt.

            Bank money is debt. Specie money, which though admittedly rare nowadays is still money, is not debt.
            Specie money’s value is a combination of its inherent value (i.e. the value-for-other-uses of the metal) and its ‘agio’ (the additional value it derives from its convenience as a money, as a result of being assayed and weighed with a trusted stamp). The agio is what provides the seigniorage that pays the coiner for the effort of coining; thus for privately produced monies, supply and demand will balance the circulation at the point where the agio matches the marginal cost of coining (I think? I haven’t worked through that argument carefully. A further complication is that the value of the specie is increased by the demand for its use as money, so some of the agio shows up there rather than in the price difference between bullion and coin). Governments sometimes set the seigniorage lower to encourage uptake of the coin for reasons of public policy, but this also encourages the melting down of coin (so they have to ban that), and possibly clipping.
            The value of specie-backed bank money is the value of the specie, minus the risk of default, plus the agio; the additional convenience of paper (or electronic) money over a lot of heavy, fiddly-to-count coins means the agio is larger. (Also, calling it “debt” rather than, say, “warehouse receipts” feels like it might be the lead-in to a noncentral fallacy, even if it’s technically true.)
            The value of fiat money is all agio; it’s not meaningful to say that a dollar is “a debt against the US government” when the only thing you can redeem that debt for is… another dollar. (Exception: you can use that dollar to cancel a debt to the IRS. By denominating taxes, fines etc. in its fiat currency, a government gives its citizens an incentive to use that currency for everything else as well to reduce the need for conversions. Whether this counts as a form of agio is a definitional question I’d rather not take a side on.)
            It’s possible for a non-government-backed money to derive value purely from agio too; this seems to be the case for some cryptocurrencies (although for others there may also be value derived from e.g. “using ETH gives you a claim on a fraction of the processing pool to execute your smart contracts”. I’m not by any means an expert on cryptocurrency, so this parenthetical might be total bollocks).

          • ReaperReader says:

            @Erusian: you are assuming that all debt is money. That is a very broad definition of ‘money’, compared to the standard ones of M0 to M4.

            To take your case of

            Normally it costs a dollar but you agree to let me have it on credit: I can have the soup now but I have to give you $.10 a month for the next twelve months. I take the deal. I still have one dollar. You have a debt which is worth $1.20

            @Bonemwah may have your debt, but whether it is worth $1.20 depends on how trustworthy you are thought to be, and on the market’s discount rate. It is entirely possible that @Bonewah may only be able to sell your debt for 10 cents, or for nothing, not $1.20. (No disrespect to you personally, the market valuation is necessarily made under limited information).

            What’s more, let’s say @Bonemwah manages to sell your debt for $1.20, then you default (for simplicity let’s assume you default before you make any payments, again no disrespect intended). So you have the soup, and your $1.20. Bonewah has the $1.20. The purchaser of yur debt is down $1.20. The net effect is the same as if you just defaulted on your debt to @Bonewah directly.

          • Erusian says:

            Bank money is debt. Specie money, which though admittedly rare nowadays is still money, is not debt.

            All money, including paper bills on the gold standard money, is debt. This doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be the case, but de facto it is today and for the past few centuries. That said, I concede that you can design a system (such as a specie system you describe) where the money isn’t debt.

            I will also point out that MMT does not advocate anything like a specie currency standard. Some right wing economic theories do but I’m not talking about that.

            You are assuming that all debt is money. That is a very broad definition of ‘money’, compared to the standard ones of M0 to M4.

            M0-M4 is meant to measure the total money supply. Debt is not included in the count because it would involve double counting. If you take out a loan for $100,000 and put it in your bank account, that means there’s $100,000 more in M1.

            @Bonemwah may have your debt, but whether it is worth $1.20 depends on how trustworthy you are thought to be, and on the market’s discount rate. It is entirely possible that @Bonewah may only be able to sell your debt for 10 cents, or for nothing, not $1.20. (No disrespect to you personally, the market valuation is necessarily made under limited information).

            You’re complicating a scenario I admitted I simplified. I admit the scenario is simplified. Yes, there are good and bad debts. Does this meaningfully change my point in some way? Because I’m not advocating a Bonewah soup based economy.

            What’s more, let’s say @Bonemwah manages to sell your debt for $1.20, then you default (for simplicity let’s assume you default before you make any payments, again no disrespect intended). So you have the soup, and your $1.20. Bonewah has the $1.20. The purchaser of yur debt is down $1.20. The net effect is the same as if you just defaulted on your debt to @Bonewah directly.

            Yes, and? Again, I don’t see what lesson this complication of a demonstrative toy model is meant to gesture towards.

          • ec429 says:

            Erusian:

            All money, including paper bills on the gold standard money, is debt. This doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be the case, but de facto it is today and for the past few centuries. That said, I concede that you can design a system (such as a specie system you describe) where the money isn’t debt.

            The Krugerrand is (famously) legal tender in South Africa today; the British gold sovereign circulated widely before 1914 (which is only one century ago) and, similarly, is still legal tender in Britain today (although its face value is such a small fraction of its metal value that it would be very strange to use it in that way). Specie money was the norm until the early 20th century (the silver standard was probably more widespread than the gold standard; cf pound sterling); it mostly went away during the Great Depression when governments made laws banning the ‘hoarding’ of specie, being replaced by government-issued specie-backed fractional-reserve money, which in turn was replaced by pure fiat money when Bretton Woods collapsed in 1971.
            Really, painting specie money as some kind of weird aberration is wrong; it’s our present pure-agio fiat system that’s historically unusual. It’s lasted for just 50 years at this point, and IMNSHO it and the Bismarckian welfare state it props up probably won’t last another 50.

            I will also point out that MMT does not advocate anything like a specie currency standard. Some right wing economic theories do but I’m not talking about that.

            Of course Magic Money Tree doesn’t advocate specie currency. You can’t print your way out of fiscal trouble if people will only accept hard currency! That, in turn, is a large part of why the economic schools you refer to as “right-wing” do advocate it (or, as in David’s article, privately-issued commodity-backed fractional-reserve money).

          • bonewah says:

            Thanks for your replies everyone.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Money is debt. The origin of paper money is literally as debt slips: you gave the bank some gold or whatever and they gave you a piece of paper saying they owed you a relevant debt. This remained the case until 1973. Since 1973, this debt is against the income of the government of the United States (or whatever relevant country).

            If I hold a $1 bill right now, whose liability am I holding? In what way is it against the income of the US government?

          • ReaperReader says:

            @Erusian: of course I’m complicating it, the rule is “make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler”, not “make it as simple as possible Full Stop”. We could equally well say that you’re complicated it by bringing in the issue of debt in the first place.

          • Erusian says:

            Bank money is debt. Specie money, which though admittedly rare nowadays is still money, is not debt.

            Yes, yes. I’ve already conceded other systems are possible and have existed in the past, though while specie coins may circulate they’ve been a small part of the money supply compared to paper notes on the gold standard for at least a few centuries. Still, I am being descriptive, not prescriptive.

            If I hold a $1 bill right now, whose liability am I holding? In what way is it against the income of the US government?

            Because the US government will be required to provide goods or services in exchange for that bill. Likewise, if I were to hold a contract that someone would deliver me such and such amount of salt pork it would be a liability. Now, granted, it’s a strange liability because the government is sovereign: the government’s “liability” in some cases is an inability to arrest you for tax evasion. But it still is. (There is some debate on this point as ec429 says. But if you want to argue paying taxes is not a value, then you can always subscribe to the petrodollar theory or whatever pleases you. Or you can advocate a return to specie currency. But again, I’m simply trying to be descriptive.)

            @Erusian: of course I’m complicating it, the rule is “make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler”, not “make it as simple as possible Full Stop”. We could equally well say that you’re complicated it by bringing in the issue of debt in the first place.

            I can tell you why I simplified it outside of a general principle: I was trying to show how money supplies could be increased through debt. What principle are you trying to demonstrate or discuss? I don’t see how it contradicts my point that debt is how money is created. Of course there’s bad debt that doesn’t create money. I never denied that. I just don’t see what you’re trying to illuminate.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Because the US government will be required to provide goods or services in exchange for that bill.

            Which goods and services are they required to provide? At what price?

            the government’s “liability” in some cases is an inability to arrest you for tax evasion.

            This is, and always has been, a completely ridiculous position. Taxes are neither a good or a service, and not everyone who receives dollars in exchange for goods and services is required to pay US taxes. The US government can demand that I give them my dollars under threat of imprisonment, which actually makes it a liability for ME, but not for them. In short there is no reasonable definition of liability that applies to the US dollar. Actual US dollars (right now) function in the same way as specie currency from this vantage point, they are assets only, and not liabilities.

          • Erusian says:

            The US government can demand that I give them my dollars under threat of imprisonment, which actually makes it a liability for ME, but not for them. In short there is no reasonable definition of liability that applies to the US dollar.

            What’s your definition of liability? Because the US does not tax the mere possession of dollars, so I think it’s a very non-standard usage from an accounting perspective.

          • Money is debt.

            No.

            Money is something that can be conveniently used to make payments. Bitcoin isn’t debt. A gold sovereign wasn’t debt. And lots of things that are debt are not money.

          • Erusian says:

            No.

            Money is something that can be conveniently used to make payments. Bitcoin isn’t debt. A gold sovereign wasn’t debt. And lots of things that are debt are not money.

            As I have clarified several times, I am describing the system as it currently exists for dollars. This is because I am discussing MMT proposals for how to handle the current US budget, for which that is the relevant discussion.

            I am not describing eternal rules of economics and I have repeatedly conceded as much. You are right there are several systems where money isn’t debt. None of them are the US system. If I am wrong about the US system, please tell me, but I don’t think I am.

            I am well aware that money can be specie currency or cowry shells or bitcoin or giant stones hauled on ships from a different island. Money is just a medium exchange and store of value, whatever the society happens to choose for it. But bank notes, even bank notes on the gold standard, are a kind of debt. This is a choice our society has made, and we could have made others, but it is what we have done. Again, I am being descriptive not prescriptive. (At least on the matter of money, I’m being fairly prescriptive in that I don’t think MMT makes sense. But strangely no one is pushing back on that.)

            Or am I mistaken even with how the current system works?

          • ec429 says:

            @Erusian: I don’t think your repeated mantra that you are “being descriptive, not prescriptive” squares with broad phrasings like “Money is debt”. You now seem to be saying that all you were ever saying was “US dollars are debt”. Which claim baconbits9 has engaged, and I think he has a point, but it’s at least something we can meaningfully discuss. But “money is debt” has a distinct baileyish feel to it, and I think that’s why we’re still hammering on this point.

            (I agree that bank notes on the gold standard — what I referred to as “bank money”, mainly because (IIRC) that’s what Smith means by the term, though it appears modern usage is different — are debt in the sense you define it; I never disputed that. But by your “just talkin’ ’bout the US nation” representation, that’s as irrelevant to your position as specie money, so why do you still bring it up?)

            As for “the US dollar is debt”: what US government office do I take my dollars to, and what (specific and enumerated) goods and services are they obliged (subject, of course, to their sovereign ability to default on their obligations) to exchange them for? I may not have taken a position on whether value-qua-tax-tender is agio, but I will take the position that it’s not a strong enough peg to hang an argument like “the dollar is debt” on; legal tender just means it’s guaranteed to be accepted against a debt, not that it’s a debt itself — the taxman will probably accept specie (and maybe even a cow) as payment-in-kind, but I don’t see you claiming that cows are debt.

          • If I am wrong about the US system, please tell me, but I don’t think I am.

            You are. Currency, bank notes, are not debt, since they are not redeemable. Arguably silver certificates were, and there may be a few still circulating, but not many.

          • Erusian says:

            But “money is debt” has a distinct baileyish feel to it, and I think that’s why we’re still hammering on this point.

            What’s my bailey then? This is what I have repeatedly asked for clarification on and failed to receive. A motte and bailey fallacy is switching between two positions to obscure some indefensible but desired position. The thing is, my only desired position here is that MMT is wrong, something you’ve explicitly agreed with. I have not made any arguments against specie currency. And there’s no way to get specie currency to support MMT, which is why this seems like a strange hill to bring up.

            I’d be happy to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of specie currency. I agree with you that saying money cannot escape being debt would be a bad argument. It’s not relevant in an MMT discussion though and I haven’t discussed it. My protest is that your comment is irrelevant. Imagine two people discussing MMT in the US. One says the government creates money by spending it. One says money is created by taking out debt. And you say, “Well, in other systems people have non-debt money!” It’s a non-sequitur: we aren’t discussing other systems and specie currency is not a feature of the current or MMT system.

            Again: What’s my bailey? What belief do you think I’m pushing that I’m obscuring by now retreating from “the money supply is debt” to “the US money supply is currently debt”?

            You are. Currency, bank notes, are not debt, since they are not redeemable. Arguably silver certificates were, and there may be a few still circulating, but not many.

            Redeemable, as I was taught, meant you can exchange something for goods, a discount, forgiveness, services, etc immediately. Obviously that can’t be your argument because that’s trivially false. Dollars can be exchanged immediately.

            Or are you saying debt necessarily has a maturity date? Such that, for example, a government issuing a perpetual bond is not issuing debt? Here’s a question: what are accounts payable?

          • baconbits9 says:

            What’s your definition of liability?

            A liability is something (generally) that confers an obligation. If I earn $100,000 then I have an obligation (under threat of penalty) to convey some of that $100,000 to the US government. IE earning US dollars comes with a very straight forward liability for US residents, which is literally called a tax liability.

            Because the US does not tax the mere possession of dollars,

            No, it taxes that transfers of dollars which doesn’t change anything about the set up.

          • Erusian says:

            A liability is something (generally) that confers an obligation. If I earn $100,000 then I have an obligation (under threat of penalty) to convey some of that $100,000 to the US government. IE earning US dollars comes with a very straight forward liability for US residents, which is literally called a tax liability.

            Yes, transferring money sometimes creates tax burden. That is your liability. We’re talking about how it’s a liability to the Federal government, so that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the dollar is a liability to the government, which can no longer arrest you or compel you so long as you give up a sufficient number of those dollars. (Whether that’s legitimate is a separate question. But that is how the system effectively works.)

            Do you know what someone else’s liability to you is? An asset. Thus your tax burden is an asset to the Federal government, just as a dollar is an asset to you and a liability to the Federal government. The Federal government must accept the money, it’s literally printed on the bill.

            If you want to imagine this system sans state power: If I give you a coupon for a free massage then you have an asset (the coupon) and I have a liability (the necessity of giving you a massage). This is true even though the coupon doesn’t incur interest. It’s true even if you trade the coupon for a sandwich and the massage never gets claimed. It’s true even if you get the massage and then I pay someone else for something else with the coupon. It’s true even if you trade in the coupon for something other than a massage to me.

            (And for the specie money crowd: This system isn’t necessarily the way it has to be set up. But it is how it is set up right now.)

            No, it taxes that transfers of dollars which doesn’t change anything about the set up.

            It doesn’t tax the transfer of dollars in all cases, just some. So yes, there’s a pretty major gap there. You’re using sophistry: switching between the legal and conventional definition of liability. Yes, the fact that you’ve entered into the Leviathan of the US government means things might not turn out well for you. But from an accounting perspective, that’s because you’ve come into an asset.

            To see the distinction, think of winning the lottery. You’ve suddenly come into a massive asset (a bunch of money) which is nevertheless statistically likely to get you killed.

          • baconbits9 says:

            What’s relevant is that the dollar is a liability to the government, which can no longer arrest you or compel you so long as you give up a sufficient number of those dollars.

            This doesn’t fit any definition of a liability at all. If I pay my mortgage then the bank can not foreclose on me and take possession of my house, so my mortgage payment is a liability of the bank once I have sent it in? I’ll answer that one- not it is not. Not in any way that leaves the term ‘liability’ with any meaning. Additionally this alleged ‘liability’ has actually nothing to do with me holding a dollar. If the dollar is explicitly backed by gold then I can take X dollar bills into a government office and demand Y ounces of gold. Those bills would be a liability, however if I earn $100,000 and pay my $30,000 in taxes then the $70,000 that I have left over represent nothing to the US government in terms of liability. How can this be if US dollars are a liability to the government?

          • baconbits9 says:

            You’re using sophistry:

            I’m sorry that you think this, but this is actually because you are jumping around without actually nailing down what you mean and I am responding to you. This is one of your original claims

            Money is debt. The origin of paper money is literally as debt slips: you gave the bank some gold or whatever and they gave you a piece of paper saying they owed you a relevant debt. This remained the case until 1973. Since 1973, this debt is against the income of the government of the United States (or whatever relevant country).

            I ask you again, how is the US dollar ‘against’ the income of the united states. What definition of liability are you using here?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Do you know what someone else’s liability to you is? An asset

            Yes. That does not mean that every asset is someone else’s liability.

            Thus your tax burden is an asset to the Federal government, just as a dollar is an asset to you and a liability to the Federal government.

            No. Just because something is an asset to me does not make it a liability for someone else. Watch

            You have $100. Total assets $100.
            You lend me that $100. You have zero dollars now, and an IOU worth $100, and I have $100 plus a liability worth $100. Total assets $100
            Now I pay you back that $100. The liability is gone, it is zero, the IOU is gone, it is zero, the $100 is now in your hands. Total assets $100.

            I make $100,000, I owe the Government $30,000. I have assets of $100,000, and a liability of $30,000. The government has an asset of $30,000 in terms of the debt I owe it. I pay the government $30,000 and its assets are now $30,000 in cash rather than in debt held, and my liability is extinguished.

            I still hold $70,000, how is that money a liability for the US government? You can’t even claim that it represents the inability to imprison me for tax evasion here* because that was extinguished by the $30,000. You cannot claim that the US dollars I hold left over represent any liability for the US government, and so you cannot make the broad claim that US dollars are a liability of the US government.

            *still a ridiculous position, again my bank doesn’t incur a liability when I pay my mortgage in any sense of the word, legal or colloquial.

    • Telemythides says:

      This article seems pretty much like what you want: https://slate.com/business/1998/08/baby-sitting-the-economy.html

      • detroitdan says:

        @Telemythides

        Thanks for the reply. I’m not a fan of Krugman as I’ve found he obfuscates more than he clarifies, from my perspective.

    • John Schilling says:

      OK, my turn:

      Monetary policy is the practice of adjusting the circulation of money (crudely speaking, “printing just enough money”) to meet economic demand without adverse side effects. One possible failure mode is, crudely speaking, printing too much money so that we not only facilitate desirable economic activity but incentivize foolish economic activity by people with more money than they know what to do with and along the way generate inflation. Another possible failure mode is, crudely speaking, to print too little money so that desirable or even necessary economic activity cannot occur, and along the way generate deflation. In addition to the above-describe failure modes at the margin, either of these failures if pushed beyond modest levels will result in economic uncertainty that impedes long-term planning and investment. A third possible failure mode is to cleverly outsmart yourself and imagine you’ve come up with a way to avoid the fundamental constraints associated with steering between the first two failure modes.

      Economists are, qualitatively, very good at identifying the things that are functionally equivalent to “printing money”. They are, qualitatively, very good at identifying the factors that increase or decrease the demand for money and thus the amount of monetary circulation we need. Quantitatively, they are tolerably good at putting numbers on all of this at the margin, for small deviations from the neutral setpoint made slowly enough to watch the results and apply feedback. The quantitative accuracy decreases rapidly with the magnitude of the deviation or the timescale of the planning. And economists are no damn good at all at coming up with Extreme Cleverness that negates these constraints.

      And since you’re going to bring it up, Modern Monetary Theory is an alternate way of characterizing the relevant parameters and interactions that results in much the same predictions at the margin but offer little in the way of true insight and is much more likely to have you outsmarting yourself if you try to push them very far afield. In ways very predictable to those of us who don’t subscribe to MMT.

      • yodelyak says:

        @John Schilling
        I’ve been commenting here for a long time, and very much respect your evident capacity for stringing together a set of effective sentences on topics like foreign policy, hiring policy, or rockets/space.
        I think this is the first I’ve seen you say something that seemed really interesting about economics, and I would really like to know more. If you picked one place that isn’t paywalled that I could read, or one book I could get with a library card, to see what a non-MMT view of monetary policy looks like, what would you pick?
        Also, if at some point you wonder if people appreciate your effort, in effort posts and otherwise, here’s a disembodied–or platonic ideal, if you prefer–+1 of appreciation for you.

      • detroitdan says:

        @John Schilling

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

        I would disagree that monetary policy is about “printing just enough money”. Money is created by:

        1. Fiscal deficits
        2. Private sector money creation

        The government does regulate private sector money creation, and that should be an important aspect of monetary policy. In practice, the central bank buys and sells government “debt”, exchanging demand deposits for time deposits, to set interest rates.

        I agree that MMT is an alternative way of characterizing the relevant parameters and interactions. IMO, it’s much clearer and straightforward than the conventional description.

        Anyway, thanks for the feedback.

    • J Mann says:

      @detroitdan

      I don’t think educated people think monetary policy is nonsense. (If you mean that people think “modern monetary theory” is nonsense, then I think many do, but that’s not what Sumner advocates.) (Warning: I’m probably getting some of the details on Sumner wrong, so if you want to know what he believes, read his blog.)

      In general, Sumner’s position is that monetary policy (the amount of money the federal reserve makes available and the fed’s other decisions that affect monetary velocity) has a substantial impact on the economy, and that the fed can do great damage to the economy, or, in some cases, help the economy. I don’t think many people think this is nonsense.

      Sumner also generally opposes the idea of trying to make short term adjustments to the economic cycle by changing government spending, (I.e. “People didn’t spend enough money this month – build more roads!. Wait, now they’re spending too much – stop building that road!”), in particular when the federal reserve is taking action to counter the effect of fiscal policy on the economy. I would think his factual premises are the mainstream view, but at the very least, they’re not absurd.

      Sumner’s specific policy proposal is that a superior governing mechanism for the Fed would be in place of issuing varying guidance, the Fed should announce that it’s targeting a specific value of NGDP, and it should create a futures market to assist it in targeting that value. That proposal is interesting and quite possibly superior to the fed mechanism we have now, but it’s pretty specific to ask Scott (Alexander) to defend.

      ETA: Sorry, I guess I completely misunderstood you. I though you meant that educated people thought monetary theory was nonsense, but you meant that you thought that monetary theory, as it is understood by educated people, is nonsense. Apologies!

      To the extent that you’re arguing that conventional monetary theory is nonsense and Modern Monetary Theory is correct, I’d look for some real world evidence – if some other country could implement MMT and MMT’s predictions hold true, that would be interesting.

      • detroitdan says:

        @J Mann

        Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        “To the extent that you’re arguing that conventional monetary theory is nonsense and Modern Monetary Theory is correct, I’d look for some real world evidence – if some other country could implement MMT and MMT’s predictions hold true, that would be interesting.”

        Conventional thinking is that central banks control the money supply by adjusting interest rates. Low interest rates boost private investment and generate higher inflation. High interest rates do the opposite. This has been demonstrated as nonsense in recent decades. Japan is the prime example, with Europe and the U.S. close behind.

        As another example, conventional economists predicted that monetizing the government debt would lead to hyperinflation. This has become standard central bank practice for more than decade (under the confusing name of quantitative easing) and has had no such effect — not even mild inflation. The reason is because government “debt” is essentially just time deposits — money that pays interest but is not immediately liquid. Exchanging demand deposits for time deposits doesn’t change the money supply in any significant manner, and this is most of what monetary policy does.

        • sourcreamus says:

          Sumner has addressed this explicitly. He agrees that the idea that the government controls the money supply by moving interest rates is incorrect. It is this error that leads people to think that high interest rates mean tight money and vice versa.

          One interest rate is what is most commonly used to change the money supply by the Fed but overall interest rates are set by the market based on inflation and growth expectations.

          Until Abe Japan had tight money for decades despite low interest rates. Sumner has addressed that many times.

          Sumner consistently advocated for quantitative easing during the great recession and the whole reason he began to blog is that he saw policy makers not understand that tight money was the cause of the great recession and wanted to advocate for looser money to end the recession. He has never predicted hyperinflation and has consistently taken central banks to task for failing to provide enough inflation during the first couple years following the great recession.

          • baconbits9 says:

            One interest rate is what is most commonly used to change the money supply by the Fed but overall interest rates are set by the market based on inflation and growth expectations.

            Which is the same thing as Sumner believes that CBs functionally control growth and inflation expectations.

            Sumner consistently advocated for quantitative easing during the great recession and the whole reason he began to blog is that he saw policy makers not understand that tight money was the cause of the great recession and wanted to advocate for looser money to end the recession.

            Which makes Sumner a hypocrite because he never back explains policy prior to Lehamn, if he had any intellectual credibility he would be writing about how the Fed was to loose in the year leading up to the Lehman brothers collapse, and should have penned blog posts about how the Fed was courting inflation by lowering interest rates while inflation expectations were rising above 2.5% in early 2008.

    • Atlas says:

      As far as I can tell, “monetary policy”, as commonly thought of by educated people these days, is nonsense. Yet, intelligent people like Scott Alexander seem to believe in it.

      CHALLENGE: Provide a brief description of what monetary policy is and why it makes sense as a way of steering the economy.

      I suspect that most YouTube libertarian logic guys (e.g. Stefan Molyneux or Peter Schiff) could probably beat most mainstream economists, including ones who primarily study monetary policy, in a debate over whether or not a government central bank, and thus policy to guide it, should exist.

      • Atlas says:

        David Friedman’s comments on monetary policy in The Machinery of Freedom were characteristically intriguing and heterodox:

        The fundamental problem with government money is not that government cannot provide stable money but that it is not always in its interest to do so. Inflation via the printing press is a way in which the government can spend money without collecting taxes. It may also be politically profitable as a device to benefit debtors at the expense of creditors, especially when the government is itself a major debtor. Other forms of monetary instability are often a result of attempts to manipulate economic variables such as the unemployment rate for short-run political objectives.

        This suggests that instead of arguing about whether our government should return to the gold standard we should instead be thinking about whether the government should produce money at all. The idea of private monetary systems may seem odd to us, but such systems have existed before; one example is described by Lawrence White in a book cited in Appendix II….

        Two further arguments are sometimes made for why money creation cannot be private; both, I think, are mistaken. The first is that competition is impossible since without a uniform money every transaction requires the intervention of a money changer. But this argument confuses standardization with monopoly. It is certainly convenient for the monies of different firms to exchange at a ratio of one to one, just as it is convenient for nuts made by one firm to fit bolts made by another, but this does not require that all money, or all nuts and bolts, be made by the same firm. The obvious way to arrange for standardization is for the different banks offering fractional reserve monies to use the same commodity in the same units…

        Such a system would work, in practice, very much like an ideal fiat system in which the monetary authority maintains a stable price level by appropriate manipulation of the money supply. Under a commodity bundle system, if the money supply increased to the point where the bundle was worth more than 100,000 dollars, holders of dollars would turn them in for commodities, bringing the money supply and the price level back down. If the money supply fell so that the commodities were worth less than the money, banks would find that they could issue additional money without any of it being turned in for commodities and the money supply would rise. The system as a whole would therefore stabilize prices in such a way as to make the price of the bundle, a crude price index, stable at its face value.

        The advantage of this system over a government-run fiat system is that it does not rely on the wisdom or benevolence of the people appointed to manage the money supply. It provides a mechanism for making it in the interest of the private people controlling the money supply to behave in exactly the way we would want the officials controlling a government fiat system to behave. Since the nature of the reserves in this system makes it unnecessary for the banks to hold any significant quantity of them, such a system is, in effect, a fiat system in which the obligation to redeem the currency in commodities forces the people controlling the money supply to maintain stable prices.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      So, what do you think the educated people think of as monetary policy?

      FWIW, Sumner’s views are lot more consensus than they were when he started blogging. Back then, most “educated people” (which ones are we talking about?) thought “interest rates are zero, there’s nothing more monetary policy can do, policy is maximally loose!” Sumner basically says:
      1. There is a lot more monetary policy can do
      2. Low interest rates are not an indication that policy has been too loose, it’s an indication policy has been too tight. High interest rates are an indication policy has been too loose.

      Money has a dramatic effect on overall demand in the economy, because we pay for everything in money, and we save in dollar denominated assets. Managing the money supply is essential to adjusting to demand shocks. I don’t know if this is what you mean by “steer the economy”: the Fed does not directly determine housing stock or sewer investment or margarita mix purchases.

      • detroitdan says:

        @A Definite Beta Guy

        Educated people, as evidenced by most of the commenters here, think that monetary policy controls the money supply. But central banks don’t control the money supply. They just manage government interest rates by buying and selling government bills and bonds. In other words, they exchange demand deposits for time deposits.

        The money supply is actually determined by:

        1. Fiscal deficits
        2. Private sector money creation

        Private sector money creation is and should be regulated by the government.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          At this point you’re not disagreeing with the large group “educated people,” you’re disagreeing with the small group “Federal Reserve Chairs.”

          The Federal Reserve does not directly set money supply or demand, but they have tools that can impact both. It’s well-known that the Federal Reserve may not have all the tools that it needs to drive additional money supply. However, the Federal Reserve CAN reduce money supply relatively easy by setting interest-on-reserves and unloading its massive balance sheet (which is quite a bit larger than government bills and bonds: that’s about a decade behind the time).

          • baconbits9 says:

            The problem with this position is that there is no ‘money supply’ in the economy that can be defined and measured in a meaningful way outside of market actions. Treasury Bonds at a 0% coupon are supposedly indistinguishable from from money, which directly implies that the money supply shifts according to market conditions. In fact anyone can create a dollar liability for themselves, and a dollar asset for someone else, by promising to settle a contract in dollars, these actions simply get folded into the term ‘velocity’ since they can’t be directly measured or controlled by the CB, but they function to expand or contract the MS just the same for all intents and purposes.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yeah, but that’s a bit different than saying the Federal Reserve cannot affect the money supply and it’s all created by fiscal deficits. They have imperfect tools that they use to achieve price stability and full employment, those tools acting on and through the monetary medium. Don’t really know what you call that if it’s not monetary policy.

          • ReaperReader says:

            @baconbits9: we also can’t measure the value of any ordinary economic activity, such as growing wheat, in a meaningful way outside of market activities.

          • detroitdan says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            “the Federal Reserve CAN reduce money supply relatively easy by setting interest-on-reserves and unloading its massive balance sheet (which is quite a bit larger than government bills and bonds: that’s about a decade behind the time).”

            How does “setting interest on reserves” reduce the money supply?

            Yes, the Federal Reserve can sell government bills and bonds, and thereby convert demand deposits to time deposits. One effect is to pay interest and thereby increase the money supply. Yes, demand deposits are different from time deposits, but they are quite similar and in fact time deposits (government bills and bonds) can be easily exchanged for demand deposits as that is a very liquid market which is backed up by the central bank itself since they prioritize interest rates rather than which type of money is held.

            You are right in that the central bank can hold mortgages and other private assets. But this is not conventional monetary policy. Rather it is fiscal policy (private sector bailouts) masquerading as monetary policy, in my view.

          • baconbits9 says:

            we also can’t measure the value of any ordinary economic activity, such as growing wheat, in a meaningful way outside of market activities.

            You could measure the quantity of wheat in terms of weight which is independent of the price for that weight as changing the price of wheat doesn’t change its weight. This isn’t true for money, if you grow 10 tons of wheat last year and 11 tons this year then you can say something about your wheat production without knowing the price (obviously knowing the prices will give you more information).

          • ReaperReader says:

            @baconbits: sure you can measure the quantity of wheat without markets. But not the *value*, which is in economic terms the more important thing. E.g. If there was a bumper rice crop this year then the same quantity of wheat is less valuable than if the rice crop failed.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @baconbits: sure you can measure the quantity of wheat without markets. But not the *value*, which is in economic terms the more important thing. E.g. If there was a bumper rice crop this year then the same quantity of wheat is less valuable than if the rice crop failed.

            One way to measure the value of the wheat would be to take the weight of wheat sold against the price of wheat per weight. If you don’t know one or the other then you don’t know the value of wheat. With the money supply there is no independent variable for ‘amount of money’ that functions in the way the ‘amount of wheat’ functions, so you can’t actually get a ‘value’ for the amount of money you have.

          • ReaperReader says:

            On the contrary, people value things all the time without having an independent volume. E.g. “healthcare spending” lumps together everything from administering standard childhood vaccines to risky experimental surgeries.

        • @DetroitDan:

          Am I correct in thinking that you regard a government bond as part of the money supply? It isn’t a close substitute for currency.

          • detroitdan says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Yes, you are largely correct in assessing my thinking. It is true that government bonds (time deposits) are not the same as central bank reserves (demand deposits), but the government bond market is highly liquid and the central bank can and does exchange one for the other as needed to maintain their interest rate targets. So they are close substitutes from my point of view. Certainly, government bonds are more like money than they are like private debt.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So they are close substitutes from my point of view. Certainly, government bonds are more like money than they are like private debt.

            So how is private debt less like money than government bonds?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            By custom and common practice. If you owe someone a million euros, they will generally accept a million euro-valued bundesbank bond as payment without negotiation nor objection. They are not legally obligated to do so the way they would be a million euros, but in practice, potato pothato, the bond will be accepted, while a million euro bond issued by BMW cannot be quite so cavalierly substituted for cash.

    • Lambert says:

      Are there any good introductions to all this monetary theory stuff?
      My current understanding doesn’t go much further than ‘Weimar Germany, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are kind of bad at it’.
      Preferably something that teaches the controversy about MMT.

      Everyone’s talking about the BoE inflation targets and the Fed and that skyscraper in Frankfurt that looks really pretty in the sunset. But IDK how it all actually works.

      • detroitdan says:

        @Lambert

        Here’s something I wrote: MMT Brief Description. It really is brief, but references a good textbook on money and banking as well as some other resources.

      • ReaperReader says:

        I don’t think there is, short of “do a degree in economics with a focus on monetary economics”.

        The issue with MMTers isn’t what they say, which is typically pretty orthodox stuff but what they don’t say, and what said ommissions imply to people who don’t have that background training in economics. E.g. they talk a lot about the government being able to print money to fund its activities (if the country has a sovereign currency), and ignore that what is needed isn’t money per se but real resources, the money is just an efficient way of transferring the desired resources from the private sector to the public (or from one household to another, as the case may be).

        • detroitdan says:

          @ReaperReader

          Au contraire, MMT is focused on real resources. Thus, if the government spends too much money, it will cause inflation as there will be too much money chasing the limited real resources. This is MMT 101.

          • ReaperReader says:

            Notice that even here you are talking about money and inflation, not about real resources.

            (By ‘real’, I mean something like “not money”: it is hard to rigourously define “money” but luckily our everyday intuitions work for most cases).

    • Aapje says:

      Not an economist, but this is my view:

      To understand monetary policy, you need to understand money. Proper money is something that has value, yet has zero or low utility. In other words, people should ideally only keep money in their possession temporarily to facilitate complex exchanges of goods/services. Money can be used to be able to do trades long after or before they produce value for others (savings & loans), but this ideally should be done through a bank, so the money is not removed from the economy.

      Inflation works as a tax on exchanges and saving, while it is a subsidy for loans. Existing contracts that define exchanges (like work contracts) typically don’t automatically account for inflation, so it is also a tax on the side of the contract that provides services and gets money.

      Deflation has the opposite effects to inflation. The subsidy on savings means that money gains utility as an investment vehicle.

      There needs to be enough money going around to facilitate the way money is used and mechanisms to reuse money. For example, if Bob loans $300k to buy a house from bank A, while Jane deposits $300k as pension savings, then once both transactions are done, no money is actually being used. Of course, in reality, loans and savings are never going to balance out perfectly.

      The money supply should be sufficient to allow people to keep money in their possession temporarily to facilitate complex exchanges of goods/services, to take care of mismatches between savings and loans, as well as to facilitate the money that is not saved in a bank. It should not be so high so people start making very risky investments or stop valuing it (too fast).

      People who want money to be backed by gold or such believe that money can only have value if it can be exchanged for something with real utility. This ignores that money can pretty much only function if people value it more than the actual utility value. So even for a gold-standard currency, people have to accept that they can never all exchange the money for gold with equal utility value. However, it turns out that in high trust societies, people are willing to accept money with zero utility value (nigh-worthless paper or bits in a computer).

      Modern ‘no-intervention’ economics uses inflation as the measure of how large the money supply should be. Close to deflation means that the supply is too small, too much inflation means that it is too large.

      There is a certain amount of leeway before things go wrong, which can be used to steer the economy somewhat. For example, decreasing the money supply can curtail overinvestment/bubbles and spending, while increasing it can boost investment and spending.

      However, monetary policy cannot (fully) control certain variables, like:
      – how good the investment opportunities are
      – the impact of age on savings/loans (people tend to save for their old age during a certain period in their life and ‘unsave’ that money later)
      – the culturally determined level of ‘spendiness’ of the population
      – productivity improvements

      Also, trying to reduce the trust that people have in the value of money is very risky, because it is inherently also trust in the institutions that set the money supply. If you go too far to reduce trust, it is hard to recover from it & there are various side effects.

      You can get into a situation like Japan has, where increasing the monetary supply has relatively little impact, unless you substantially decrease trust in money.

      • Garrett says:

        > People who want money to be backed by gold or such believe that money can only have value if it can be exchanged for something with real utility.

        Nit: That may be the view of some people. However, there are others who support that idea because a currency “backed” by something is thus unable to be manipulated by the government. If a dollar was to return to being by-definition 1/20th of an ounce of gold, the only way the government could print more money would be to dig up more gold. It prevents fiat currency debasement. This can be viewed as a positive from certain perspectives. It provides more certainty – the amount of currency is unlikely to change in value over the term of major plans. It reduces the ability of the government to spend via back-door taxation – if every dollar is reduced in value, they’ve been taxed while not having the numbers in the bank account change.

        • matkoniecz says:

          However, there are others who support that idea because a currency “backed” by something is thus unable to be manipulated by the government.

          Maybe there are claiming weaker version? Debasement has a long history.

          A coin is said to be debased if the quantity of gold, silver, copper or nickel in the coin is reduced.

          Starting with Nero in AD 64, the Romans continuously debased their silver coins until, by the end of the 3rd century, hardly any silver was left.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debasement

          • John Schilling says:

            Debasement has a long history of being a thing that rulers knew would bite them in the ass in the long run but would help them through a short-term crunch, and for a while “long run” could plausibly mean your successor has to deal with it. As the world became more connected and information technology more sophisticated, the “long run” became much shorter.

            I can’t think of any significant post-telegraph examples, and I can’t think of any period from the introduction of fiat money on where the “debasement” of paper wasn’t far more common than the debasement of coin.

        • People who want money to be backed by gold or such believe that money can only have value if it can be exchanged for something with real utility.

          The argument for a commodity standard is that it results in a behavior of the money supply that gives a stable value for the commodity and so stable prices, as long as the price of the commodity relevant to other things doesn’t change too much.

          That doesn’t require a government issued money. Scotland in the 18th century, when Smith wrote, had privately issued fractional reserve money based on silver.

          I have an old article discussing alternative forms of money online. Some may find it of interest.

        • No One In Particular says:

          “This can be viewed as a positive from certain perspectives. It provides more certainty – the amount of currency is unlikely to change in value over the term of major plans.”
          The prices of a commodity is variable. So while a fiat currency may have a higher ceiling on uncertainty, its floor is lower. My guess would be that the price of gold has varied more in the last 20 years than inflation has.

      • Inflation works as a tax on exchanges and saving, while it is a subsidy for loans.

        That is not correct.

        Inflation is a tax on holdings of currency — if you have paper money in your wallet it’s worth less. It doesn’t raise the cost of exchanges or of saving.

        Unexpected inflation transfers from creditors to debtors. Expected inflation doesn’t, since it gets built into the terms of the loan.

        • Aapje says:

          It doesn’t have to be paper money, just money that is liquid.

          The more you trade (in value), using money, the more value you need to have in monetary form and the greater the cost of inflation. For example, imagine two farmers. Farmer Bob produces $2 worth of milk a day and gets paid 1 week after delivery. He also buys $2 worth of milk products from the same company he sold the milk to. The $2 of that second transaction has 1 week’s worth of inflation less buying power than the $2 he got for his own milk. I consider this an inflation tax.

          Farmer Jane is autarkic. She also produces $2 worth of milk a day, if she were to sell it. However, she produces milk products for herself at the same efficiency as the milk company that Bob sells to (or at least, when accounting for their profit margin). So she never pays the cost of inflation and gets more milk products for her $2 worth of milk than Bob.

          Or another example: imagine a completely stable market for purely decorative items called Yiops, that come in 5 colors. So when adjusting for inflation, Yiops are always the same price.

          Scott buys a red Yiop and enjoys it for the next 10 years. In contrast, Mary sells her Yiop every year and buys one in a different color. The period between getting cash for her old Yiop and exchanging her money for the new Yiop is exactly a week each time.

          During those 10 years, Mary has made 2 x 9 transactions that Scott didn’t make, each pair of transactions costing her a week in inflation.

          Inflation is a tax on liquid cash and you get and/or need liquid cash to trade with money, which in turn means that if people do the rational thing and scale their liquid cash holdings with their trade volume, more trade means a higher inflation ‘tax.’

          I do agree with your criticism that loans price in the expected inflation and thus unexpectedly high levels inflation subsidize loans, not high inflation itself.

          • The $2 of that second transaction has 1 week’s worth of inflation less buying power than the $2 he got for his own milk.

            As per your final comment, if the inflation is anticipated then the payment a week later will be adjusted accordingly.

            The tax is only on cash balances. It isn’t even on checking account money since, in a fractional reserve system, those accounts are backed mostly by real assets or monetary assets (loans) whose terms take account of the anticipated inflation. So if inflation rates are high, the checking account will pay interest accordingly.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems very rare for contracts to anticipate inflation, where the payment is higher for future deliveries/services. Typically, there at most is an evaluation moment (usually once a year or less often), so then at least a year of inflation is not accounted for.

            The only alternative would be for people to price future inflation into current prices, but then you have inflation right now and not in the future, so I don’t see how that can work, because then expected inflation couldn’t really exist. Once people expected it, it would disappear into the current prices and only unexpected future inflation could exist.

            So doesn’t the existence of expected inflation require nominal rigidity?

      • No One In Particular says:

        “For example, if Bob loans $300k to buy a house from bank A”
        You appear to have the terms “loan” and “borrow” confused.

        “This ignores that money can pretty much only function if people value it more than the actual utility value.”
        That seems like a clearly false claim to me.

    • ReaperReader says:

      What an odd complaint. “Monetary policy” is a fairly complex, non-intuitive, part of economics. Most educated people don’t have degrees in economics of any sort, and those who do don’t necessarily recall much about monetary theory, therefore it’s not surprising that what educated people commonly think of as “monetary policy” is nonsense. Same is likely true of any specialised area.

      Incidentally, the people who do specialise in monetary policy seem, to my uneducated eye, to mainly think that today’s monetary policy is nonsense (whatever the date of “today” is). I may be suffering from sample selection bias though.

      • detroitdan says:

        @ReaperReader

        If you read the comments above, many people here seem to think that monetary determines the supply of money. My contention is that monetary policy determines only the risk free interest rate. Educated people have a basic misunderstanding of how the monetary system works, and go to great lengths to work around their misunderstanding. It’s comparable to religious dogmatism, in my view.

        Scott Sumner represents an extreme parody of common sense when he says that monetary policy involves the central bank threatening to do things and that’s how the system works. Somebody above actually referenced that Sumner theory.

        • ReaperReader says:

          If you read the comments above, many people here seem to think that monetary determines the supply of money. My contention is that monetary policy determines only the risk free interest rate.

          Sounds like a definitional problem then, most people are using the term “monetary policy” to mean a different thing to what you are using it for. What do you call policies affecting money that affect things other than the risk free interest rate?

          Educated people have a basic misunderstanding of how the monetary system works

          I generally agree. Same is true of any complex system, e.g. how the internet works on a technical level. It’s not possible to be a master of every topic. To take the field of economics, most educated but non-economists don’t even know about marginal utility or general equilibrium, let alone the much more specialised area of monetary policy.

          and go to great lengths to work around their misunderstanding.

          I think this is rather optimistic. In my experience most people, including myself, are quite lazy.

          It’s comparable to religious dogmatism, in my view.

          Ah yes, “arguments from my opponent believes something”

  10. Loriot says:

    I just learned that in 1601-1603, a volcanic winter induced famine killed ~30% of the Russian population. That’s a pretty horrifying impact, and yet I’d never even heard of it before.

    Whenever people talk about how globalization has increased the risk of the pandemics and the like, it’s important to remember just how much more resilient our society is thanks to modern technology and logistics. The current pandemic is bad because our standards are so much higher than in the past.

    • Randy M says:

      I had to check, and this is different from the European “Year without a Summer“, 1816, which may have also been caused by a volcanic eruption–in freaking Indonesia.

      So, what are we doing to prepare for the mega eruption of 2030 or so?

      • Bobobob says:

        Getting my eaves cleaned.

      • Beans says:

        Growing my hair out to shield my eyes from volcanic ash.

      • keaswaran says:

        I’ve been wondering this ever since the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_travel_disruption_after_the_2010_Eyjafjallaj%C3%B6kull_eruption

        As an academic with a number of friends and social contacts that regularly travel between Europe and North America for conferences and other academic business, it was shocking to me that people spent 8 days stranded on the wrong continent, with a worry that it could have extended longer. The global air travel system has really only existed 60 or 70 years (if that), and while everyone is prepared for a snowstorm to strike O’Hare, very few people were prepared for that volcanic disruption or the similar (and much more massive) coronavirus disruption to the air travel system. When you add up all of these disruptions (as well as smaller ones due to the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts), it seems like the global air travel system really only has something like 99.5% uptime, which is shockingly low – but the disruption mainly comes in the form of multiple weeks of massive global events every decade or two.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Had you heard the term “Time of Troubles” before? That was just a really bad decade for Russia, so much so that they couldn’t individually keep track of every single little thing that killed 10-30% of the population.

    • Atlas says:

      Whenever people talk about how globalization has increased the risk of the pandemics and the like, it’s important to remember just how much more resilient our society is thanks to modern technology and logistics. The current pandemic is bad because our standards are so much higher than in the past.

      Yeah, definitely. Pinker discusses this generally in Enlightenment Now, and how there’s been a lot of progress even fairly recently:

      For most of human history, the strongest force of death was infectious disease, the nasty feature of evolution in which small, rapidly reproducing organisms make their living at our expense and hitch a ride from body to body in bugs, worms, and bodily effluvia. Epidemics killed by the millions, wiping out entire civilizations, and visited sudden misery on local populations. To take just one example, yellow fever, a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, was so named because its victims turned that color before dying in agony. According to an account of an 1878 Memphis epidemic, the sick had “crawled into holes twisted out of shape, their bodies discovered later only by the stench of their decaying flesh. . . . [A mother was found dead] with her body sprawled across the bed . . . black vomit like coffee grounds spattered all over . . . the children rolling on the floor, groaning.”2

      The rich were not spared: in 1836, the wealthiest man in the world, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, died of an infected abscess. Nor the powerful: various British monarchs were cut down by dysentery, smallpox, pneumonia, typhoid, tuberculosis, and malaria. American presidents, too, were vulnerable: William Henry Harrison fell ill shortly after his inauguration in 1841 and died of septic shock thirty-one days later, and James Polk succumbed to cholera three months after leaving office in 1849. As recently as 1924, the sixteen-year-old son of a sitting president, Calvin Coolidge Jr., died of an infected blister he got while playing tennis…

      As a psycholinguist who once wrote an entire book on the past tense, I can single out my favorite example in the history of the English language.6 It comes from the first sentence of a Wikipedia entry: Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. Yes, “smallpox was.” The disease that got its name from the painful pustules that cover the victim’s skin, mouth, and eyes and that killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century has ceased to exist. (The last case was diagnosed in Somalia in 1977.) For this astounding moral triumph we can thank, among others, Edward Jenner, who discovered vaccination in 1796, the World Health Organization, which in 1959 set the audacious goal of eradicating the disease, and William Foege, who figured out that vaccinating small but strategically chosen portions of the vulnerable populations would do the job. In Getting Better, the economist Charles Kenny comments:

      “The total cost of the program over those ten years . . . was in the region of $312 million—perhaps 32 cents per person in infected countries. The eradication program cost about the same as producing five recent Hollywood blockbusters, or the wing of a B-2 bomber, or a little under one-tenth the cost of Boston’s recent road-improvement project nicknamed the Big Dig. However much one admires the improved views of the Boston waterfront, the lines of the stealth bomber, or the acting skills of Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean [Ed—Personally, very highly], or indeed of the gorilla in King Kong, this still seems like a very good deal.7”

      Even as a resident of the Boston waterfront, I’d have to agree. But this stupendous achievement was only the beginning. Wikipedia’s definition of rinderpest (cattle plague), which starved millions of farmers and herders throughout history by wiping out their livestock, is also in the past tense. And four other sources of misery in the developing world are slated for eradication. Jonas Salk did not live to see the Global Polio Eradication Initiative approach its goal: by 2016 the disease had been beaten back to just thirty-seven cases in three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria), the lowest in history, with an even lower rate thus far in 2017.8 Guinea worm is a three-foot-long parasite that worms its way into the victim’s lower limbs and diabolically forms a painful blister. When the sufferer soaks his or her foot for relief, the blister bursts, releasing thousands of larvae into the water, which other people drink, continuing the cycle. The only treatment consists of pulling the worm out over several days or weeks. But thanks to a three-decade campaign of education and water treatment by the Carter Center, the number of cases fell from 3.5 million in twenty-one countries in 1986 to just twenty-five cases in three countries in 2016 (and just three in one country in the first quarter of 2017).9 Elephantiasis, river blindness, and blinding trachoma, whose symptoms are as bad as they sound, may also be defined in the past tense by 2030, and measles, rubella, yaws, sleeping sickness, and hookworm are in epidemiologists’ sights as well.10 (Will any of these triumphs be heralded with moments of silence, ringing bells, honking horns, people smiling at strangers and forgiving their enemies?)

      Even diseases that are not obliterated are being decimated. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of deaths from malaria (which in the past killed half the people who had ever lived) fell by 60 percent. The World Health Organization has adopted a plan to reduce the rate by another 90 percent by 2030, and to eliminate it from thirty-five of the ninety-seven countries in which it is endemic today (just as it was eliminated from the United States, where it had been endemic until 1951).11 The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted the goal of eradicating it altogether.12 As we saw in chapter 5, in the 1990s HIV/AIDS in Africa was a setback for humanity’s progress in lengthening life spans. But the tide turned in the next decade, and the global death rate for children was cut in half, emboldening the UN to agree in 2016 to a plan to end the AIDS epidemic (though not necessarily to eradicate the virus) by 2030.13 Figure 6-1 shows that between 2000 and 2013 the world also saw massive reductions in the number of children dying from the five most lethal infectious diseases. In all, the control of infectious disease since 1990 has saved the lives of more than a hundred million children.14

  11. Bobobob says:

    One of the unexpected benefits of COVID-19 is that I now get to teach history to my kids, using my own curriculum. This afternoon’s lesson on World War I: “Now, a lot of people will tell you the war wasn’t Germany’s fault. But I’ll let you in on a secret…the war was Germany’s fault.”

    On a related note, I’m currently re-reading Dreadnought by Robert K. Massie, which I highly recommend to everyone here, especially for its analysis of Kaiser Wilhelm’s character. An insecure leader with a giant chip on his shoulder commanding a massive war machine…what could possibly go wrong?

    • Scoop says:

      The war was not Germany’s fault. It was the fault of Russia, for jumping to Serbia’s defense with no conceivable justification, and then the fault of France and the UK for not loudly denouncing Russia’s action and making it clear to Germany that they had no intention of joining Russia in the fight.

      If Russia stays out, Austria wipes out Serbia’s government, takes a bit of land for tribute and Serbia gets a new government. Size of war: negligible.

      If Russia gets in but France and the UK bow out and Germany doesn’t get to crazy about annexing Russian land, Russia’s army goes down and the government gets overthrown. Size of war: pretty big, but nothing crazy.

      If Russia gets in, France and the UK bow out, but Germany thinks it can annex all of Russia — well, we all know what happens when people think they can annex all of Russia. Size of war: quite big but still only a fraction of what happened.

      On point B: Dreadnought is very good. Started my love of Lord Salisbury, who certainly would not have gotten the UK into WWI.

      • bean says:

        Disagree. Russia was pushed into backing Serbia because Austria handed Serbia an unreasonable ultimatum, which they did because they had German backing. Germany is the one here who can most easily make a meaningful difference by simply saying “no, keep it reasonable”. Instead, they chose to deliberately court a war, essentially for domestic political reasons. (At least if you believe Fisher, which I more or less do.)

        • Scoop says:

          The ultimatum wasn’t unreasonable. It was generously mild. Serbia directly supported a group that assassinated the heir to the A-H throne, and A-H only demanded that it be allowed to investigate independently and that Serbia stopped supporting and started suppressing groups that wanted to overthrow A-H’s government.

          Can you imagine how any reasonably powerful nation would respond today to a foreign government that sponsored terrorists who killed the second most important person in its government?

          What Serbia did was an act of war. It fully justified an immediate military effort to overthrow Serbia’s government. All Austria did was demand an investigation and tell Serbia to cut it out.

          • bean says:

            I’m not disagreeing that it was an act of war on Serbia’s part. But to call the ultimatum “generously mild” is not supported by an actual reading of the document. It basically demanded that Serbia stop saying anything Austria-Hungary disliked, fire anyone that the Austrians asked them to, and generally subjugate themselves to Austria-Hungary. It is undisputed that the ultimatum was intended to be so harsh that Serbia wouldn’t accept it, so it could serve as a pretext for war. If it’s “hand over Vojislav Tankosić and stop arguing over that disputed territory”, then they’d have probably gotten away with it, and Russia would have stood aside.

          • Scoop says:

            Yes, but I’m saying war without any ultimatum was the normal and just response to political assassination on that level.

            Giving Serbia an out, even if it emasculated Serbia’s government, was a bonus.

            Russia would have been wrong to back Serbia even if Austria had declared war the next day — because it’s wrong to back nations that engage in political assassinations; political assassinations should invalidate what were meant to be defense treaties — but Russia was doubly wrong to back Serbia after it chose not avoid the war by supplicating itself for a few years.

            And what was Russia’s justification? Unity of the Slavs. They just wanted to back people of their “race,” regardless of the merits of their actions, which isn’t really a way of thinking that has aged well.

          • Lillian says:

            My personal opinion, which seems to be rather unique since I have yet to see anyone else voice it, is that the July Crisis was the time period in which the Austro-Serbian War of 1914 became the First World War. The winning move for Austro-Hungary was to declare war within days of the assassination of Franz Joseph. By not immediately doing so and faffing about with international diplomacy, they effectively conceded that the matter was not one worth going to war over. This meant that their ultimatum on July 23rd was not judged in comparison to a declaration of war, but in comparison to other more reasonable ultimatums they could have otherwise issued. It also gave weeks for France and Russia to talk and agree that they would back each other.

            If Austria had instead declared war immediately, all the Great Powers would have understood this as a reasonable response to what was, by any measure, an act of war on the part of the Serbians. This would have also radically shifted the context of the situation, and all diplomatic energies of Europe would have instead been turned into trying to broker a peace.

          • bean says:

            Giving Serbia an out, even if it emasculated Serbia’s government, was a bonus.

            No, it really wasn’t. If they’d handed over an ultimatum in early July asking for Tankosic’s head, then they’d have gotten it. If they’d gone to war in early July, they’d probably have gotten away with it. (The declaration of war, military success is a different matter.) But delaying meant they were seen (quite rightly) as schemers instead of as the wronged party, as well as giving other nations a chance to prepare themselves.

            And what was Russia’s justification? Unity of the Slavs. They just wanted to back people of their “race,” regardless of the merits of their actions, which isn’t really a way of thinking that has aged well.

            It may not have aged well, but it was hardly unique at the time. Also, you’re ignoring the geopolitical angle. Serbia is a Russian client, and letting your clients get taken apart is not a good thing. As far as I see it, Russia largely didn’t have a choice about it. From their perspective in late July, all the other options were far worse. Germany had a choice in how much to encourage or discourage Austria, and they chose to go full speed ahead. They could have said “be reasonable”, and it wouldn’t have really cost them anything. (Well, at least not immediately. Fisher’s theory is that they expected their actions to pay dividends domestically, but that’s not exactly encouraging.)

          • Lillian says:

            It’s my understanding that the Russian response to the Austrian ultimatum was to tell the Serbians that they could offer nothing beyond moral support, and to advice them that they should capitulate. The reason why the Russians ultimately mobilised is because they were under the impression that the Serbians did capitulate, and the Austrians declared war anyway. It remains a matter of some dispute whether or not the Serbians really did give in to Austrian demands and to what extent, but the point is the Russians thought they did and consequently the Austrian declaration of war was utterly unwarranted.

            Also with respect to the blank cheque the Germans gave to Austria, they chose to do it because giving their full support to the Austrians had worked tremendously well a few years prior during the Annexation Crisis of 1908. They were of course unaware that the Russians had decided they would not let the Austrians walk all over them like that again. Yet nonetheless, thanks to Serbia’s culpability in the assassination of the Archduke, they almost did so anyway.

            My general view of the matter is that the Germans had no goddamned idea what they were doing. In another post I describe how the German government sabotaged the Kaiser’s attempts to shift towards a negotiated agreement in late July, yet it must be kept in mind that they were not doing this because they wanted a general war. Both the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister were very emphatic that they wanted to avoid a world war, they just for some reason were very keen on having a local one, apparently utterly unaware that they could not have one without the other. Indeed once matters began to spiral out of control they suddenly began to frantically try to pressure the Austrians into accepting the Kaiser’s proposal after all. The very same proposal that they had sabotaged only a few days previously, but they were met with silence because by then it was far too late.

          • Scoop says:

            Serbia is a Russian client, and letting your clients get taken apart is not a good thing. As far as I see it, Russia largely didn’t have a choice about it.

            You can certainly abandon your client, in full honor, when your client breaks norms of international behavior. Indeed, you have to abandon them in order prevent, say, a major world war from breaking out needlessly.

            Poland is our client. If Russia attacked it unprovoked, we would go to war. If, however, the Polish government spend a decade funding and aiding anti-Putin forces that managed to assassinate his second in command, we would not be stopping the Russian tanks that rolled in shortly afterward. And we would be right to shrug the obligation.

            As for whether any ultimatum is more unreasonable than just rushing to war, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. You say the Austrians looked like schemers. I say they looked like people who wanted to maintain the standards of European diplomacy (by offering Serbia an out, although a very unpalatable one) before actually starting a war they were entirely just in starting.

          • Scoop says:

            The winning move for Austro-Hungary was to declare war within days of the assassination of Franz Joseph.

            In hindsight, I’d agree this is probably true.

            It also gave weeks for France and Russia to talk and agree that they would back each other.

            This again is an illustration of why I think France is the second worst actor in WWI after Russia. Imagine that discussion:

            Russia: If A-H launches a perfectly just war against Serbia, we’re going to attack them and try to destroy them. That will probably lead Germany to make a perfectly just declaration of war against us for attacking their ally without provocation.

            France: That’s OK. If Germany tries to protect its ally against your unprovoked attack on its ally, we’ll invoke our defensive treaty with you — even though you jumped into the war voluntarily — to attack them.

          • Lillian says:

            @Scoop, actually I would say France is the worst actor not Russia. Unlike the Germans, who had not the faintest clue what they were doing and wished to avoid a general war, the French knew exactly what did everything they could to ensure there would be such a war. They made a conscious, deliberate, and concentrated effort to escalate the situation into a full on world war so they could get their rematch against Germany. Note for example that the initial Russian response given to Serbia with respect to the Austrian ultimatum was that they could offer no more than moral support, and advised them capitulate and accept the terms. Yet only a week later the Russians were ordering a full mobilisation to come to Serbia’s defence. What changed? The French backed them up and egged them on.

        • JohnBuridan says:

          I already lost this argument to local expert bean once. 🙂
          But I must admit, I didn’t fully get an understanding of how Fisher’s argument works.

      • Atlas says:

        The war was not Germany’s fault. It was the fault of Russia, for jumping to Serbia’s defense with no conceivable justification, and then the fault of France and the UK for not loudly denouncing Russia’s action and making it clear to Germany that they had no intention of joining Russia in the fight.

        What about the famous “Blank Cheque” issued by the German leadership to Austria-Hungary? (Genuine, not rhetorical, question; I haven’t read too much about the origins of WW1.)

        The Enclyopedia Britannica has an interesting entry on the history of the war guilt controversy.

        On the perception circa the 1930s:

        In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the victorious coalition justified its peace terms by forcing Germany and its allies to acknowledge guilt for the war. This tactic was historically dubious and politically disastrous, but it stemmed from the liberal conviction, as old as the Enlightenment, that peace was normal and war an aberration or crime for which clear responsibility—guilt—could be established. Almost at once, revisionist historians examined the thousands of documents that governments made available after 1920 and challenged the Versailles verdict. Yes, the German government had issued the risky “blank check” and urged Vienna on an aggressive course. It had swept aside all proposals for mediation until events had gained irreversible momentum. It had, finally, surrendered its authority to a military plan that ensured the war could not be localized. Indeed, the whole course of German foreign policy since 1890 had been restless and counter-productive, calling into existence the very ring of enemies it then took extreme risks to break. But on the other hand, Russia’s hasty mobilization expanded the crisis beyond the Balkans, initiated a round of military moves, and contributed to German panic. Given the military realities of the age, Sazonov’s notion of Russian mobilization as a mere “application of pressure” was either disingenuous or foolish. France could be faulted for not restraining Russia and for issuing its own “blank check.” Even the British might have done more to preserve peace, either through more vigorous mediation or by making clear that they would not remain neutral in a continental war, thus deterring the Germans. Finally, what of the states at the heart of the crisis? Surely Belgrade’s use of political terrorism in the name of Greater Serbia, and Austria-Hungary’s determination to crush its tormentors, provoked the crisis in the first place. By the 1930s moderate historians had concluded, with Lloyd George, that no one country was to blame for the war: “We all stumbled into it.”

        On post-WW2 and Cold War developments:

        After World War II and the Cold War had left the issues of 1914 passé, a committee of French and German historians agreed that World War I had been an unwilled disaster for which all countries shared blame. Only a few years later, however, in 1961, that consensus shattered. The German historian Fritz Fischer published a massive study of German war aims during 1914–18 and held that Germany’s government, social elites, and even broad masses had consciously pursued a breakthrough to world power in the years before World War I and that the German government, fully aware of the risks of world war and of British belligerency, had deliberately provoked the 1914 crisis. Fischer’s thesis sparked bitter debate and a rash of new interpretations of World War I. Leftist historians made connections between Fischer’s evidence and that cited 30 years before by Eckhart Kehr, who had traced the social origins of the naval program to the cleavages in German society and the stalemate in the Reichstag. Other historians saw links to the Bismarckian technique of using foreign policy excursions to stifle domestic reform, a technique dubbed “social imperialism.” Germany’s rulers, it appeared, had resolved before 1914 to overthrow the world order in hopes of preserving the domestic order.

        Traditionalist critics of Fischer pointed to the universality of imperialistic, social Darwinist, and militaristic behaviour on the eve of the war. The kaiser, in his most nationalistic moods, only spoke and acted like many others in all the great powers. Did not Sazonov and the Russian generals, in their unrecorded moments, yearn to erase the humiliation of 1905 and conquer the Dardanelles, or Poincaré and General J.-J.-C. Joffre wonder excitedly if the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine were finally at hand, or the Primrose and Navy leagues thrill to the prospect of a Nelsonian clash of dreadnoughts? Germans were not the only people who grew weary of peace or harboured grandiose visions of empire. To this universalist view, leftist historians like the American A.J. Mayer then applied the “primacy of domestic policy” thesis and hypothesized that all the European powers had courted war as a means of cowing or distracting their working classes and national minorities.

        • Scoop says:

          The blank check was fine. A-H was an ally, launching an entirely just war. It is fine for Germany to say, “We will give you any help with this war, and if Russia attempts an utterly unjustifiable attempt to stop you, we will protect you from them.”

      • cassander says:

        given how badly austria fucked up the war against serbia, I think that outcome is unlikely. Without russia, serbia still likely pushes back the initial austrian invasion, leading to an extended crisis that almost certainly ends up (A) with more countries getting involved and (B) higher demands from austria for the eventual settlement.

        • Scoop says:

          Given the difference in the respective sizes of their armed forces, I think Austria would have recovered, like a mini version of Russia in WWII. Terrible generals would have been replaced by smarter, younger people; the army would have figured out that it wasn’t 1848. Etc.

          If it hadn’t, no big deal. One of two things happens:
          1. Serbia commits act of war. A-H declares war but screws it up. A-H loses and breaks up. No huge deal.
          2. Serbia commits act of war. A-H declares war but screws it up. Germany steps in and smashes Serbia to help an ally that had a just cause. No huge deal.

          Edit: In looking back at this, I realize it makes me look like I’m pretending to be some sort of expert in the military history of the era. I’m not. At all. I’m just asserting that size is such an advantage that it usually gives you a chance to recover from initial mistakes. The North in the Civil War would be another good example. Early losses caused by terrible generals but plenty of time to replace them and change the entire army’s ideas about fighting a war.

          • cassander says:

            Oh, the austrians definitely would have won, but after the humiliation of the first repulse, their demands for peace would escalate in order to save face. A quick victory, new government, and minor border adjustments would towards substantial annexations, which makes it harder for russia to stay out. And once russia is in, then france is, so then germany is, and then probably the UK as well.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      I’m not sure how much nuance and detail you go into, so no disrespect intended. Summaries are generally meant to be pithy and simple. But sans context that summary sentence strikes me as the same type of anti-useful as the old saw about “you learn the (American) civil war was about slavery; then you learn it wasn’t; then you learn again that it really WAS”.

      With the Civil War, there were a crapton of factors involved that, yes, ultimately boil down to influence of slavery as a system on American society, manifesting in a multitude of interesting ways. It was emphatically NOT “The Union declared war to free the slaves”, which is what elementary school students come away with from the phase 1 lesson.

      With WWI, there were a crapton of factors involved, and yes most of which can be boiled down to the history and national character of the German Empire and its interactions with its neighbors etc etc in a multitude of interesting ways. But it was emphatically NOT “Germany declared war on everybody cuz it wanted to rule the world” (like it was with WWII), which is what elementary school students come away with…

      • Bobobob says:

        Just as a semantic point, I didn’t say tell my kids Germany declared war on everybody, just that the war was Germany’s fault. There is a slight difference.

        On my reading of history, it really did come down to Kaiser Wilhelm’s personality. The guy was looking for a war, and he got one. Until I started my reread of Dreadnought, I had forgotten what a fascinating character he was (and how closely related he was to the British and Russian royal families).

        As for the proximate cause of the war (addressing Scoop’s comment above), that’s entering into the game later than I had intended. I concede that Russia may have borne immediate responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities, but events were set in motion years before that by Wilhelm and the German military.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Yep, a slight but important distinction. It’s a particular bugbear of mine to take umbrage with lazy history painting the “Second Reich” with the same brush as the 3rd (e.g. Wonder Woman movie).

          For my own summary: everybody* wanted a war, Germany wanted it most, Germany did the most to bring it about (both deliberately and incidentally); nobody thought they would get the war that they got, it was a watershed of awfulness for everyone involved; propaganda written by the winners least-losers sticking all the blame on Germany is a large part of how we got WW2: Electric Boogaloo. Importantly very very messy and not subject to the same The Good, the Bad, and the Commies dynamics of the second war – and attempts to cast it as such are anticonstructive revisionism.

          Anyway not meaning to argue, just a topic that gets my hackles up :p

          • cassander says:

            Austria, or at least the general largely austrian policy, wanted war more than germany did.

        • Lillian says:

          On my reading of history, it really did come down to Kaiser Wilhelm’s personality. The guy was looking for a war, and he got one. Until I started my reread of Dreadnought, I had forgotten what a fascinating character he was (and how closely related he was to the British and Russian royal families).

          Then Dreadnought painted you a misleading picture, because Kaiser Wilhelm II did not have as much control over the German government as he is generally ascribed. The man was by nature weak and indecisive, and his opinions subject to mercurial shifts, so it is trivial to find him adopting just about any given position at some time or another. The actual course of the German Empire took was decided not by him, but by the rest of his government, who would lean on his authority when his opinion was in their favour, but actively sabotage it when it was not.

          For example on July 26th, when it appeared that the Serbians would capitulate to the Austrian ultimatum after all, Kaiser Wilhelm changed his mind on the war for which he had been agitating only days previously. Instead he proposed that the Austrians accept Serbian capitulation and go no further than occupying Belgrade. Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg deliberately sabotaged this offer, redacting parts of the Kaiser’s proposal and instructing the German ambassador to Vienna that he must not give the impression that the Germans wanted to hold Austria back, even though that was exactly what the Kaiser wished to do. Meanwhile the German Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow actively instructed his diplomats to simply ignore the Kaiser’s offer. Then at the end of the day General Erich von Falkenhayn bluntly informed Wilhelm that he no longer had control of the situation and demanded he stop interfering.

          Prior to this, Kaiser Wilhelm had gone on his annual North Sea cruise to try and preserve the illusion of normalcy. In the recollection of shipping magnate Albert Ballin, when he inquired with the German Foreign Ministry whether the cruise should not in fact be cut short so that the Kaiser could better deal with the crisis, they flatly replied that they did not want him sabotaging the course of affairs with his pacifist ideals. Keep in mind that at this time Wilhelm was still in favour of the war, his Ministry just knew well enough that his opinion would change should the Serbians prove at all accommodating, which in fact it did.

          Frankly, to suppose that anything at all in Europe happened because Kaiser Wilhelm II really wanted it is to profoundly misunderstand both the man’s character and the character of the German government. Which is not to say that said government was eager for a general war. Some figures in the military were, but things did begin to spiral into a world war the German Chancellor and Foreign Minister suddenly began to frantically attempt to pressure the Austrians into accepting the very same proposal from the Kaiser that they had previously sabotaged. They were unsurprisingly met with silence because by then it was far too late for regrets.

    • Bugmaster says:

      My own layman’s impression of WWI was that the political situation at the time turned into a powder-keg supported on a foundation of a house of cards with the Sword of Damocles overhead, so any tiny little spark would’ve ignited it. But it’s very likely that I’m wrong; I’m not a historian by any means.

      • Bobobob says:

        More like when Daffy Duck swallowed gasoline, gunpowder, nitroglycerin and uranium-238, then put a lit match down his throat. “Girls, you better hold on to your boyfriends!”

    • Deiseach says:

      The First World War was everybody’s fault. Kaiser Bill didn’t help things by pushing really hard because he was jealous of his English cousin’s empire, but everybody else was playing the game as hard as they could and trying to pull advantages out of the house of cards.

      Russia meddling in the powderkeg that was Eastern Europe with Pan-Slavism was just as bad. The Major Powers using the minor ones and local squabbles as means to extend influence and do down both allies and rivals meant that any one of the dominoes getting tipped over would result in a bad outcome.

      • fibio says:

        The First World War was everybody’s fault. Kaiser Bill didn’t help things by pushing really hard because he was jealous of his English cousin’s empire, but everybody else was playing the game as hard as they could and trying to pull advantages out of the house of cards.

        I agree with this one more than anything else in this thread. The European model of international politics at the dawn of the twentieth century was one of cyclical crisis and brinkmanship. While this was surprisingly successful, the political engine also had a one in a hundred (or heck maybe one in five if you’re being cynical) chance of throwing the entire continent into a general war every time it revved up. Austria more or less pulled the trigger in our timeline it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things that they did. The war would have ended up being much the same if the Spanish had been the belligerents, or the British, or the Ottomans, whoever. In such a culture its hard to blame the instigator, you might as well blame someone for stepping on a landmine.

        I will also say in the defense of the people at the time that it should really be emphasized that no one had any idea how bad things would be. The last big European war I believe was the Crimea War and even though that was bloody on the ground it came no where near the scale of The Great War. I think a lot of people, strategic planners included, expected it to be the Second Franco-Prussian War and over very swiftly in a war of maneuver. The trenches were an abhorrent collapse of everyone’s plans and the resulting slaughter a tragic side effect rather than the initial aim.

    • Protagoras says:

      All of the major participants in WWI had a choice about whether to get involved or not (much as their leaders tried to pretend otherwise), and each of them, individually, regardless of the choices of the others, should have chosen not to. That does, of course, include Germany, but there is plenty of blame to spread around.

      • No One In Particular says:

        Belgium didn’t have a choice. I guess you don’t consider them a “major participant”, but once they were invaded, Britain didn’t have much of a choice.

    • Fitzroy says:

      If you’re going to blame Germany for the war you should also give them credit for staving it off. Europe was a powderkeg, and war was virtually inevitable; it was only a question of which particular spark set it off. If not for the efforts of Otto von Bismarck and the intricate system of mutual alliances and balance-of-power diplomacy he orchestrated in the late 19th century, the war would probably have come a generation earlier.

      I wonder how different Europe would have looked if the ‘Krieg-in-Sicht’ crisis of 1875 had erupted into full-blown Franco-German war?

      • cassander says:

        any war that happened before 1910 or so would have been much, much shorter and far less deadly. WWI was the bloodbath it was because the combination of modern artillery, railroads. and vast armies made it extremely difficult to achieve decisive results on the battlefield. But before 1910 and the invention of the haber process, the killing would have been limited by the inability to produce ammunition on the scale we see in ww1. A pre-1910 war sees one side or the other simply run out of ammunition a year and a half into the war.

        • noyann says:

          WWI was the bloodbath it was because the combination of modern artillery, railroads. and vast armies made it extremely difficult to achieve decisive results on the battlefield.

          I was under the impression that it was the invention of the machine gun that gave such a huge advantage to the defense that, at the point the armies had run up against each other, nobody could gain much, and all the generals could come up with was throwing more meat into the grinder. Artillery, railroad and the size of armies sped up the consumption of lives, but were not the prime cause, imo. Had tanks that were able to overcome machine gun defense been introduced early in the war, what course would WW I have run?

          • baconbits9 says:

            They effectively all worked together. Fortified positions can be flanked/encircled/avoided/bombarded depending on the situation, a fotified line like trenches are usually penetrated by concentrating forces in narrow range and punching through. Trains allowed for much faster reinforcement for areas under attack which muted the strength of this strategy, and punching through could then mean being surrounded by the strongest point of the enemy rather than rolling up the weaker points.

          • fibio says:

            Machine-guns alone is simplifying it a bit. Certainly the biggest issue was that defense had won out over offense but this was a complicated interweaving of factors. If there was one technology I’d put above all others it was Europe’s well developed railways and heavy industrial sectors.

            The main problem every army on the Western front was faced with after 1914 was that any offensive push was an order or magnitude slower than defensive reinforcements. Defenses were certainly made stronger by the advent of new war technologies but they could be broken and broken decisively as they were in 1914 and in the 1918 spring offensive. However, all breakthroughs required follow up assaults and all of these were funneled through a brutalized territory carried on the back of men and beasts. In some areas you were lucky to walk through at more than a mile per hour and take a non-trivial amount of casualties doing so. Moving heavy artillery across such terrain was essentially impossible and let’s not even begin to consider the difficulty moving the supplies for the troops posed. Worse still, the lack of radio or telegraph lines means that all messages are being passed back to HQ by hand through this territory or by very unreliable signaling, so the Generals rarely had any idea if an assault is successful or whether everyone was dead.

            Meanwhile the defensive force had well prepared fallback locations, ample supplies being brought in by rail, were operating within their telephone network and was more or less out of range of bombardment by the enemy’s heavy guns. Even if overwhelmed, reinforcements would arrive swiftly by train and take up positions in established defensive locations to meet the follow up assault, or even consider a counter attack.

            You can see the opposite of this on the Eastern front. A lack of heavy rail and good supply networks meant that siege warfare on a continental scale could never develop and so the maneuver war persisted until 1917 and surrender.

            The invention that killed trench warfare was definitely the motorized truck. It allowed attackers to regain offensive mobility in WW2 and field fortifications once again became merely a supporting element rather than the all consuming focus on WW1.

          • cassander says:

            Fibio has the right of it. Armies of the time could move 100 miles a day by train, but only 10 miles a day on foot. So let’s assume that you get wonder woman to wipe out a whole sector of the front, you break through, and advance. What happens? Well, at the end of the day you’ve moved 10 miles. Meanwhile your opponent has been bringing in fresh troops from quiet sectors of the front 100 miles away. They’re arriving rested, well supplied, and in good order, and in the morning they’ll attack your guys who are are strung out and exhausted from spending all day hauling food, guns, and ammo forward then digging hasty trenches. That fight isn’t going to go well for them, so, stalemate.

            In 19th century warfare, armies were still small and short ranged enough that they could be surrounded and forced to surrender. The french forces at sedan fit into an area maybe 5 miles by 5. The WW1 era armies were large enough that this couldn’t be done by men and horses, at least not where the force density was high, like on the western front. What eventually restored mobility to the battlefield wasn’t tanks, but trucks that were capable of moving men, guns, and supplies rapidly without exhausting everyone involved.

          • Aapje says:

            In WW I, half-decently executed tank assaults were able to break through the defensive lines, but then ended up having to withdraw due to lack of follow-up by infantry. However, infantry itself proved highly ineffective at breaking through solid defenses in the first place. Trucks are also limited to roads.

            Anti-tank defense improved over time, where the best tactic to defeat strong static defenses that couldn’t be evaded, was often a combined arms assault (for example, artillery to disrupt and suppress the enemy, smoke to prevent enemy units on the flanks to participate effectively, many tanks to quickly smash through the kill zone and take out/weaken anti-infantry defenses, infantry to deal with terrain the tanks can’t deal with well and such & strafing by planes to prevent reinforcements from being brought in).

          • ec429 says:

            Trucks are also limited to roads.

            So what they really needed was lots and lots of Carriers? How good a Carrier could WWI-era engineering have built, and could they have produced anything like the numbers required? (Considering what the Mark IV was like to operate, I’m not optimistic. But it’s an intriguing what-if.)

          • cassander says:

            @ec429

            I don’t think it could have been done at the time. remember, mass production of cars is just getting started at this point. Henry Ford would make more model Ts in 1916 than there were cars in europe. But a model T weighs 1,200lb, has a 20hp engine, and was 2 wheel drive. The standard US truck of ww2 weighed 8,800lb and had a 100hp engine, more powerful than most aircraft engines in ww1.

            A truck/halftrack sufficiently powerful, reliable, and off road capable to be useful on the battlefield was a stretch for the technology of the time, and the mass production of hundreds of thousands of them even more so, particularly the engines. I do think that such a program might have been feasible not too much later. US car production in 1923 was 40 times what it was in 1909, and 10 times what it was in 1913. But 1914 was just a little bit too soon. Had the war started after 1920 or so, I think you would have seen crash mechanization programs and a far more decisive war.

          • ec429 says:

            @cassander: I’ve just gone looking and it turns out that later in the war the idea did occur to the British, but they only managed to build three Mark IX infantry-carrier tanks before the Armistice, and it’s debatable whether they would have been any use operationally.

            There was also the Gun Carrier, first used in August ’17, which were apparently pretty successful, but only 48 were produced. And if it had occurred to anyone to use the GC as an open-top infantry carrier, it’d be a closer Universal Carrier analogue than the fully enclosed Mark IX, and maybe would have avoided the latter’s big problem: after being inside a WWI tank for any length of time, you’re in no condition for infantry fighting, what with the heat and the noise and the smoke and the carbon monoxide…

            But 1914 is indeed too soon, even if somehow someone had managed to come up with tank-like ideas before seeing trench warfare in action.

          • cassander says:

            @ec429

            I’d point out that having APCs wasn’t the key. WW2 had basically no APCs. What was crucial was trucks that could move when and supplies when not in combat. it was the deuce and a half that made the difference, not tracked APC/IFVs.

          • ec429 says:

            @cassander: according to Wiki, 57,000 Universal Carriers were built by 1945; and the first sentence of the ‘Operational history’ section uses the word ‘ubiquitous’. Which I’d say is not consistent with “basically none”.

            Yes, trucks mattered a lot more than Carriers in WW2. But then, WW2 was fought along roads, not rails, and certainly not across the vast mudbaths of WW1. Now, maybe that’s because the trucks existed, idk; the Heer was much less motorised than their propaganda led people to believe (and less motorised than either the French army or the BEF), and yet still fought the Battle of France largely along the roads with great success. (Shirer’s Berlin Diary talks quite a bit about this and is my main source here. I know much less about the Eastern Front; though I’m sympathetic to the argument that Lend-Lease trucks were the key to victory there, that could just be my well-known anti-Soviet bias at work.)

            But once you’ve got trench lines in muddy fields, trucks become a lot less useful. So there’d need to be enough trucks from the start to stop that happening, and for no combinations of command blunders on both sides (from commanders to whom all these motors and machines we’re discussing would be an alarmingly novel thing, not to be trusted) to let it happen anyway. Carriers would make some kind of difference — and it’s not just infantry they carry, remember, but heavy weapons too. As I said earlier, it sounds like the Gun Carrier Mark I was quite the success operationally.

          • cassander says:

            @ec429

            there were 57,000 carriers, and there were two and a half million trucks made just by the US. And my understanding of the universal carriers is that they were used mostly as machine gun and mortar carriers, not as APCs.

          • ec429 says:

            @cassander

            there were 57,000 carriers, and there were two and a half million trucks made just by the US.

            Yes. Like I said, trucks mattered a lot more than Carriers in WW2. I’m not sure what position of mine you think you’re arguing against.

            And my understanding of the universal carriers is that they were used mostly as machine gun and mortar carriers, not as APCs.

            You’ll notice that I haven’t been using the term ‘APC’, and have been talking a lot about things like Gun Carriers.
            Infantry is hard to move across a WWI battlefield without a tracked vehicle. But heavy weapons are even harder, and they’re a more concentrated form of force. If 1914!BEF had had a bunch of primitive Carriers, even if originally designed for infantry, I think they would have quickly discovered the same wide range of uses that the Bren Gun Carrier grew into in WW2. If your infantry who have just slogged across the Flanders mud to take a position are quickly reinforced by MGs and artillery pieces (and resupplied with ammunition and rations) delivered by Carriers, their position gets a lot more tenable than if the only way to get that stuff through to them is man-and-beast porterage.

            Would it have completely changed the pattern of the war? No. But nor would trucks; as Aapje pointed out, they’re limited to roads. It takes a combination of factors (trucks, tanks, Carriers, planes, radios, the doctrinal innovations to make use of all those and doubtless more I’ve not thought of) to get you from WW1 trench warfare to WW2 mobile warfare.

        • Scoop says:

          any war that happened before 1910 or so would have been much, much shorter and far less deadly.

          This is an under-appreciated point. It still would have been pretty bad — just look at the casualties of the Boer War — but it would have been way less.

        • Lambert says:

          I kinda want to see an AH where the Second French Empire is a bit less crap and they manage to halt the Prussians before Sedan. Trench warfare with needle rifles and mitrailleuses.

        • Deiseach says:

          WWI was the bloodbath it was because the combination of modern artillery, railroads. and vast armies made it extremely difficult to achieve decisive results on the battlefield.

          Exactly this. They were fighting with 19th century tactics and expectations in a war where, for the first time, technology would have a meaningful impact. They had to scramble to adjust to the sheer scale of destruction the modern weaponry could inflict, and that meant a huge change in tactics, strategy, everything.

          I think everyone expected something along the lines of “The Germans will roll into Paris yet again, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we’ll drive them back out, and Poland will get carved up yet again, then it’ll all be done and dusted”.

          That was not how it shook out.

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            The destructive ability of the weapons of the day was both under- and overestimated. They underestimated how much casualties an advance through open ground would bring, especially if the ‘open ground’ had a lot of barbed wire. They overestimated how well the artillery would be able to suppress or kill entrenched soldiers.

            The technological progress during the war also had relatively little impact, as the offensive innovations were either not large enough or not used well, so defensive tactics got to catch up each time.

          • No One In Particular says:

            Technology has always had a meaningful impact.

        • noyann says:

          Now I got a shiny new ‘IMO’. Thanks!

        • Doctor Mist says:

          A pre-1910 war sees one side or the other simply run out of ammunition a year and a half into the war.

          Of course, such a war would likely not have had such a profound effect on the psyches of the combatant countries — having the equivalent of WWI in the time-frame of our WWI does not seem precluded.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I do not know what your kids have in standard curriculum, but as multiple previous commenters have noted, blaming war squarely on Germany is wrong. German government of that time bears fair share of guilt, but so have many other participants.

  12. Dragor says:

    Anybody have any thoughts or knowledge on reusing masks? Specifically, is it better to leave an N95 untouched a week between uses and reuse it, or to use a fresh medical mask every time? My father pointed out that coronavirus only survives a few days the other day, and preliminary googling seems to bear him outlink text. My wife and I have a fair number of N95s that her family gave us, but we have even more surgical masks, and we would like to give some more of our PPE away.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The best possible is to use a fresh one. But that’s not always an option.

      The most high-risk I thing I do each week is go to the grocery store. I have 1 N95 mask. When I get out of the grocery store and outside into the sunlight, I spray the outer surface with Windex. Then I take it off. (Wear goggles or glasses instead of spraying Windex in your own face!) I leave it lie outdoors in the sunshine for a few hours on each side, and then put it inside unused.

      I combine this with a lot of handwashing when I get home.

      I don’t let anyone else use this mask. I assume the inside is completely covered with my own germs and while my technique would probably have any existing virus die off the inside, I just don’t bother with that.

      Consider if you are wearing them to (1) stop you from being infected (2) stop you from infecting others (3) both.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      I spent about $20 on a UVC bulb from eBay, put it in a plastic tub that I lined with aluminum foil, and put a turkey rack on (to elevate objects inside and get full coverage). It’s been my go-to for sterilizing things (including masks).

      Followup question; given that the size of coronavirus particles are smaller than standard N95 masks catch, has anyone actually got a study handy showing that the masks help?

      • Garrett says:

        > smaller than standard N95 masks catch

        From what I’ve read, the 0.3 micron size is selected because it’s the hardest size to capture. Larger stuff is obviously captured mechanically. Maybe smaller stuff is captured electrostatically?

      • Dragor says:

        Is this better than just waiting for the virus to die? I read that UV destroys the mask after perhaps 3 uses.

      • keaswaran says:

        Eyeballing the charts in this paper suggest that even just a regular surgical mask gives a notable reduction in detectable emissions of coronaviruses, and a slightly smaller reduction in emissions of influenza viruses and rhinoviruses, in infected people who are coughing.

        https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0843-2

  13. j1000000 says:

    Does anyone have any work organizing tips for an unorganized person? Any other unorganized person ever find some sort of “Organizing 101” strategy that helped them sort through things?

    I got a new job about two months ago, and I now have more work than I’ve ever had before — a lot of different projects over varying timespans requiring a lot of input from a lot of different people. I get a lot of emails. I am not doing that well in managing it — I’ve missed a couple important emails because I get so many every day and I just skim them, and don’t see the important part intended for me.

    In the past my jobs were pretty straightforward, so I just kept all emails in my inbox and never sorted them to folders, saved everything to My Documents, and half the time didn’t even have a to-do list and instead just kept it in my head. This isn’t working now.

    • Dragor says:

      Funny. I asked a very similar question the other day, re keeping a planner in general. I was recommended Bullet Journal, which I have just started and so can’t give advice on. Good luck though! Hopefully smart people will come out of the woodwork for you as they did for me!

    • Beans says:

      so I just kept all emails in my inbox and never sorted them to folders, saved everything to My Documents, and half the time didn’t even have a to-do list

      Sort your emails and make a to do list! That’s the most I’ve ever required to stay organized. One thing that I think is also important is to appropriately sort new messages and enter things into the to do list as soon as you become aware of them. You don’t have to handle them immediately, just get them indexed so that when you are working, what needs to be done is already laid out properly. Not doing this requires you to do additional preliminary work before you can even start actually working.

      • j1000000 says:

        That “immediately” thing is, I think, a big part of what I’m doing wrong. Sorting through 40 emails is much more mentally taxing than sorting through 5 emails 8 times. Thanks.

        • noyann says:

          Do you use filter rules, to auto-sort into folder for projects, correspondence partners, categories, keywords, whathaveyou? Setting them up (and tweaking them now and then) is a time investment with high returns!

          • j1000000 says:

            Most definitely not. I will look into this, thanks.

          • noyann says:

            Also The Hamster Revolution has some easy to implement but effective tactics. Recommended.

            ETA
            If you expect to need large numbers of documents at hand with powerful search and auto sort, and if you don’t mind being locked into the Mac ecosystem, then DevonThink is worth some time exploring the demo.

    • AG says:

      1. Identify your deadlines, and put them on a calendar. Make up intermediate milestones (action items) as more deadlines. This gives you a better sense of what you need to complete when, which guides what you should be working on at any given time. Basically, you’re plotting your to-do list over a timeline.
      2. Figure out what the recurring predictable tasks are, and block out scheduled time to do those tasks.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      The bullet journal is the most effective thing I have done in organizing my life in the past 3 years. I am on bullet journal number 5.

      But as for organizing emails, I use gmail and sort everything into two piles Starred and unstarred. Starred things need me to do something, unstarred things don’t. Unstarring things is the equivalent to crossing them out in my bullet journal.

    • yodelyak says:

      The number one reason people are disorganized, in my experience, is they are not motivated to be organized. So, before doing anything else, add a habit of visualizing the difference between you-as-disorganized-and-wasting-your-time-and-money versus you-as-paragon-of-achieved-efficiency. It’s a huge difference, even when you imagine a single day’s effect.

      If you’re a mathy person, this might also help: .99 ^ 365 = .02. 1.01^ 365 = 37.8. At the end of a year of getting slightly more organized, where you really do it every day, but just a 1% improvement, has you 37.8/.02 = 1481 times more organized than you if you get slighly more disorganized every day.

      As for systems of organization, I’d recommend reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and keeping the stuff that works for you, especially w/r/t/ finding some system for ensuring you don’t need to keep to-do items or ideas to revisit in your mind, since minds are many times more efficiently used as engines for coming up with ideas, versus as reservoirs for holding them.

  14. Zephalinda says:

    Any Wagner lovers out there? Would anyone care to explain what you find delightful about his music?

    I watched Das Rheingold a couple weeks ago as part of the Met free streaming and was shocked by how much I disliked it. I’m aware of the woke anti-Wagnerians and was all set to have a contrarian “hate the game not the player” hot-take reaction, but nope, actually the music did come across as leaden, affected, screechy and kind of evil/ disturbing in its general affect, just like the pop-culture stereotype.

    In all fairness, my tastes in classical music generally tilt earlier, but I like lots of other late-Romantic composers just fine. My main issue was that to my novice’s ear there just didn’t seem to be much… music there? For an opera, it seemed oddly unmelodic– competent soundtrack stuff, but overall more interested in its Important Ideas, Noble Nationalist Sentiments and Beowulf libretto cosplay than in actually delivering a well-wrought and engaging musical experience.

    Casual Wikipedia-ing suggests that this may, in fact, be exactly what Wagner was going for. But am I misjudging him? Can anyone correct this take from a place of love?

    • Trevrizent says:

      May I suggest you picked the wrong opera? Das Rheingold can be hard to like, all the more if you’re not used yet to Wagner’s musical idiom. You definitively should move on to Die Walküre, it’s chock full of gorgeous melodic lines and tells a really moving story (if you can accept the mythological trappings).
      That said, I don’t really understand what you mean by ”evil / disturbing”… (the Wagner stereotype I’m familiar with would be ”awfully boring noisy German thing”, but I guess it’s apparent I don’t come from an English-speaking country) Is it the singing style? Or the harmonics?

      • ana53294 says:

        He’s a misogynist anti-semite, basically. And it shows.

        • salvorhardin says:

          Yeah, Alberich is pretty hard to excuse. I like the Ring Cycle in general and think Das Rheingold is actually one of the more dramatically and musically compelling parts, but its messages are not actually noble.

          • keaswaran says:

            The messages are rather more mixed. The central message is that the sacrifice of love for power is the source of evil in the world, that can only be redeemed by returning this power to nature. It’s unfortunate that he then goes on to identify this sacrifice of love for power with the construction of laws and bargains and this 19th century stereotype of Jewish power. But I think it’s notable that Siegfried isn’t really much more of a sympathetic character than Mime, and Loge (despite also being the tricky Jew) is in many ways the most sympathetic character of the whole series except maybe Brunnhilde.

        • noyann says:

          “I just can’t listen to any more Wagner, you know…I’m starting to get the urge to conquer Poland.” — Woody Allen

        • Ouroborobot says:

          Anti-semite, yeah, ok, he published some pretty anti-semitic stuff. That’s well known. Where do you get the misogynist piece? I’d like to really know. To me, Wagner’s characterizations of women are actually much more positive than what’s found in the rest of opera.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        Parsifal is actually quite good too.

    • ana53294 says:

      I basically like all the really famous classical composers before 1920 or so (after that, Stravinsky and Gershwin; nobody else compares to the classic), but I’m with you on that. I never liked Wagner, even before I learnt about the more problematic aspects of his work and life.

      The problematic nature of Don Giovanni, Carmen, Madam Butterfly and other such works does not stop me from enjoying it, because the music is just so good. So it’s not even whether a work has elements of misoginy or statutory rape and xenophobia, but his music is just not joyful. Technically it may be interesting, but it’s just depressing and heavy in a way even Bach isn’t.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      So if I’m introducing someone to Wagner I usually go with the Tannhauser Overture. My suggestion is to listen to it on good headphones in the bath, eyes closed and imagining it’s a film score. It rises and falls and builds and builds and builds, with horns and strings that start with opposing melodies and then merge and get more complex. Maybe it’s totally unaffecting, but it really works for me.

      The other thing I love is Tristan and Isolde, which I first saw in a really weird Paris production which was all black box except for a bunch of slow-mo projections of like, fire and water and people stripping naked. Total avant-garde absurdity and honestly one of the best things I’ve ever seen. The Met version, in contrast, is the opera-but-make-it-vaguely-1920s-fascy-post-apocalyptic which is one of theater’s 3 ideas for staging. The definition of stodgy. I would probably have preferred rubber swords and bucklers. However, I appreciated the tension of the Tristan chord and how it keeps shifting back its resolution until the final love-death even before I knew that that’s what was happening. I think I learned that from a Stephen Fry documentary on Wagner, which is as much “study” as I’ve ever done into what’s “going on” in Wagner’s music.

      Go nowhere near Meistersingers. Also, if you don’t feel something when hearing Ride of the Valkyries I don’t know what to tell you. Even if what you feel is a desire to crush the world beneath your boot. There’s a reason that one’s iconic.

      Everything bad said about Wagner is true though, wonderful moments and terrible half hours, plodding, nationalistic, drippy. Although he was some kind of anarchist in his youth, and the death of the gods in the ring cycle is also the death of old orders/power structures/bourgeoise/something or other. Haven’t seen it though, couldn’t say.

      • AG says:

        “wonderful moments and terrible half hours” is the most accurate description of Wagner ever. That’s great. (With the Flying Dutchman Overture perfectly emblematic of that)

        Musically, the only parts of the Ring I liked were:
        1. bits of the opening Mermaid singing from Das Rheingold
        2. The percussion pipes representing the hammering of the dwarves in Das Rheingold
        3. Ride of the Valkyries, duh
        4. Gotterdammerung finally paying off all those leitmotifs

        But that’s, like, a half hour of music worth remembering, out of 12 hours of runtime.

        Couldn’t get through Tristan and Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhauser, or Meistersinger. But I do still love that Lohengrin prelude.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          But that’s, like, a half hour of music worth remembering, out of 12 hours of runtime.

          The thing is, Wagner isn’t the greatest artist ever in isolation, but he was massively influential, and for the good. Hollywood was at its best when it enthusiastically internalized him. ana mentioned not liking him because he’s so leaden and not joyful, but Wagnerian structure was used to good effect in such upbeat Hollywood productions as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty (1959). By accepting Wagner, a top-tier creator of visual-music drama might be able to achieve a higher percentage of minutes worth listening to than he did. But they must accept him: the pop song soundtracks by Hollywood directors who don’t go see or respect Wagner are far far lesser in comparison.
          And the iconic Disney castle? That’s just Wagner’s royal patron’s castle Neuschwanstein.

          Plus nearly everyone in the Western world considered the Lohengrin Bridal Chorus joyful enough to get married to IRL.

          • ana53294 says:

            Plus nearly everyone in the Western world considered the Lohengrin Bridal Chorus joyful enough to get married to IRL.

            He does have his moments. But that’s what? Like 5 minutes out of a four hour opera? Most modern atonal, microtonal and whatever composers* don’t even have those moments, but my favorite composers have many more moments, and the quality is more even.

            *I’ll readily admit that Wagner is better than most of the post 1930 stuff I’ve heard, with the exception of Stravinsky and

          • Nick says:

            *I’ll readily admit that Wagner is better than most of the post 1930 stuff I’ve heard, with the exception of Stravinsky and

            Don’t leave us hanging! Who’s the other good composer?

          • ana53294 says:

            Shostakovich*. Couldn’t fix the comment, the edit window was out.

            I really tried to scratch my brain for others, but most of the composers who I could think of were ones that died before 1950 (Gershwin, Prokofiev, etc.), and I wouldn’t say they are post 1930 composers, since most of their work was before.

            And all microtonal and atonal music is a horrible thing pretentious people listen to to claim status. I’ve shared my opinion about monkeys in classical operas. I have provintial middle-class square tastes, and I like what I like, thankyouverymuch.

            *For some reason, they’re both Russian. Maybe the awful modernity took longer to get to Russia?

          • AG says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            This is assuming Wagner is the only one who’s doing the influence. I think we’re fine without him when you’ve got, say, Richard Strauss providing a lot of the similar good stuff, without the swaths of wasteland stuff. Why is it uniquely called Wagnerian structure? Other people can leitmotif.

            @ana53294
            Do Bernstein and Copland count? And then there’s some good stuff from Latin American composers, making up for less melody with more interesting rhythm. Poulenc is pretty great, too.

          • Trevrizent says:

            @ana53294, @AG
            What about Rautavaara? (born in 1928 and pretty great if you’re after non-atonal modernity !)

          • keaswaran says:

            “This is assuming Wagner is the only one who’s doing the influence. I think we’re fine without him when you’ve got, say, Richard Strauss providing a lot of the similar good stuff, without the swaths of wasteland stuff. Why is it uniquely called Wagnerian structure? Other people can leitmotif.”

            Richard Strauss was very self-consciously following Wagner and Liszt. And it’s fair to call the Leitmotiv stuff “Wagnerian structure”, because he theorized it and invented it, even if other people started doing it after him.

        • Trevrizent says:

          The thing is, musical excerpts from Wagner operas that often get highlighted tend to be the “easier” bits. The Ride of the Valkyries, the Rheingold prelude or the Tannhäuser overture have tremendous orchestration, but they’re nowhere as harmonically challenging or thematically complex as most of Tristan or Meistersinger. To really get into Wagner, you have to like this kind of complexity, and harmonic ambiguity (or at least develop an interest in it).
          (the Lohengrin prelude is a good starting point IMO)

          • AG says:

            “Challenging” and “complex” are not inherently good things. Management of tension/pacing is what the non-accessible parts of Wagner fail at. Sure, the opening bit of Das Rheingold of the same note going on for forever is interesting in some respects, but one only has to look at Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to see how you can have challenging and complex that nonetheless knows how to have proper timing, not overstaying its welcome.

          • Trevrizent says:

            Well, now I must confess I find Stravinsky pretty tedious, especially The Rite of Spring… I find it more intellectually and historically interesting than actually enjoyable (and I heard it several times at the concert hall). De gustibus…
            Anyway, my point wasn’t to praise complexity in itself. Of course there’s no shortage of extremely complex and dull pieces in the history of western music. I only wanted to say I don’t find the excerpts mentioned above characteristic of the kind of complexity that makes Wagner’s music appealing to me (and I don’t think I would be half so much into Wagner if he had died in his forties).

    • Ouroborobot says:

      I love Wagner (and opera in general), but in its unabridged form he’s not for everyone. He can be tediously long-winded, and was clearly too in love with his own ideas. It’s interesting that you mention soundtrack, because I see a clear lineage between Wagner and much of modern film scoring. “Beowulf libretto cosplay” is both an entirely fair criticism and one of the things I personally very much dig. Wagner is like the Return of the King Extra-Extra-Extended Edition of the opera world, but for me, his high points are epic in a way that other opera composers rarely reach. Tannhauser, Gotterdamerung, and Tristan are my favorites, though I do love Das Rheingold. The vorspiel and the Donner-summons-mists / rainbow bridge / Wotan sings about Valhalla sequence are highlights of the Ring cycle. FWIW, I hate the recent Met staging with “the machine”, and didn’t care for Bryn Terfel as Wotan, though he is fantastic in Mozart.

      • keaswaran says:

        I loved the “Americana” staging that the San Francisco and National operas did a decade or so ago. It’s a little hokey in Das Rheingold, with Alberich as a ’49er and the gods as Gatsby partygoers (and a croquet mallet as Thor’s hammer!), but it was great in Die Walkure (Valhalla as the boardroom at the top of the Empire State Building, and the movements of the Valkyries punctuated with photographs of American soldiers who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan).

    • Leafhopper says:

      I think you have to go all-in with him, surrendering to the conceits that, yes, you really have to stay put for five hours for the Real Experience and for the musical arc to make sense, and, yes, you should take all that over-the-top romantic bombast completely seriously, but once you do that, his music can really assume an immense amount of emotional significance.

      Highlights:
      Prelude to Act III of Tristan und Isolde
      The minor-key reprise of the Transformation Music in Act III of Parsifal
      Tannhäuser Overture, as FrankistGeorgist said

      First two are better if you listen to the preceding parts of the operas first, Tannhäuser Overture stands on its own more. In general, any short snippet of Wagner is likely to sound too heavy and bombastic unless it’s situated in the middle of three hours of that stuff to make the heaviness and bombast the norm, so you actually need the “terrible” half-hours for it to work.

      I should note that the only opera I’ve watched is Parsifal (that was live, and amazing); all the others I’ve merely listened to, so I’m speaking mostly musically here. I know most of the plots but have not directly experienced most of the operas as narratives.

      Also consider that basically all major modern films are a refined version of what Wagner is doing. Modern film music, and the way it relates to on-screen action, owes a lot to him.

    • Deiseach says:

      Only Mozart could make singing in German sound pleasant 🙂

      It’s the old joke about Wagner, and I do think he has some wonderful pieces but the effects he was striving for and his theory of what opera and music should be means a lot of BIG HEAVY ROMANTIC NOT CLASSICAL NOW BABY!!! playing.

      That being said, the Liebestod is genuinely marvellous. But for sublimity, it’s still going to be Soave Sia Il Vento and Wolfgang rather than Richard for me.

    • Trevrizent says:

      If you aren’t especially fond of German singing and big orchestral forces, I think one of the best ways to get into Wagner would be to listen to Siegfried-Idyll. It’s twenty minutes of beautiful ”pure” music for chamber orchestra, and it has everything I really love about the late Wagner – except the glorious German singing 😊 :
      * seemingly unending melodic lines
      * subtle counterpoint
      * subtle but startling harmonic shifts
      It’s a music made of many contrasting small elements, but all blended together horizontally and vertically until you can’t clearly recognise where one thing ends and the next begins. Tristan und Isolde is just the same thing on a very much bigger scale.
      (of course Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht or Strauss’ Metamorphoses take it very much further – Siegfried-Idyll seems pretty clear and easy in comparison.)

    • Björn says:

      Wagner was an extremely innovative and skilled user of harmonic tension. Consider the overture to Tristan und Isolde. It only consists of chords that in would have been considered dissonant in Classical musical (Mozart etc.) theory. In Classical music theory, such chords would be resolved with consonant, pleasant sounding chords. What Wagner does is that he teases the resolution, but then resolves the dissonant chord to another dissonant chord, sort of like musical Penrose stairs.

      But Wagner does not do this as an avantgardist experient of chord resolutions, he he uses it in conjunction with melody. You can identify a clear melody in the overture to Tristan und Isolde, that by itself is quite simple, you can hum it along if you now the tune. Yet this melody is related closely to the complex chords underneath it.

      But Wagner does not stop at music. Wagner is the only notable opera composer who wrote his own librettos. This means that the music and the play that is staged in the opera are far more interconnected then in other operas. Wagner is able to associate every concept and every character in the opera with musical elements, which helps the storytelling of the opera immensely. Compare this to something like The Magic Flute, which has a libretto that is the 18th century equivalent of Avatar (before you complain that the Magic Flute is full of Freemason symbolism: Yes, it is, but it’s far from the only opera from that time to feature magical instruments and a battle between good and evil. Consider “Kaspar, the bassoonist or: The Magic Zither”).

    • keaswaran says:

      I’m a huge Ring cycle fan (much more so than of Tolkien’s ripoff :-)). I don’t know if this means that I’m the right person or the wrong person to be explaining this to you.

      In the mid-to-late 19th century the classical music world was split among a few axes. Wagner was polarizing on many of them.

      In the world of German music, the central question was what to do in the wake of Beethoven – when his third symphony unleashed the 45 minute symphony, and the 9th symphony said you could throw a chorus into the orchestra if that’s how you needed to express yourself, the question became what *can’t* you do? In this context, Brahms was seen as the defender of the conservative view – keep writing symphonies and concertos in standard forms (maybe with an extra movement in the piano concerto, and with big orchestras, and longer development sections) and keep it mostly within tonal harmony. Wagner was seen as the progressive – after Beethoven’s 9th, the distinction between symphony and choral work was no longer important, and as development sections get longer, you can push dissonances harder to increase the power of the eventual resolution. You can venture farther from the standard forms – Beethoven and Brahms still have the standard (two theme exposition; development; recapitulation) form for their first movements, and the standard theme-and-variations or rondo form for later movements, while Wagner and Liszt abandoned these traditional forms entirely, thinking that the music should take on forms that express ideas or passions. (A few decades later, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg wrote influential music and criticism that showed how Brahms had a progressive strand as well, and suggested that the romantic melding of musical form with ideas made Wagner actually more conservative than a rigorous formalism could be.)

      In the world of opera, the bigger conflict was between Verdi and Wagner, with their associated Italian and German nationalisms. (This was the period of unification of both nations, and the word VERDI even became an Italian nationalist catchphrase, as the acronym for “Vittorio Emmanuele, Rei d’Italia”.) Somehow this played out primarily in the Paris opera houses. Verdi treated opera in the traditional way – it provides a setting to show off each of the arts, with the singers getting nice encapsulated arias with a pause for applause afterwards, while the dancers have a fancy ballet at the beginning of Act II, and the set designers get an exotic setting to design. But Wagner treated opera as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” – a total work of art. All of the artists – the singers, the dancers, the set designers – had to subject themselves to the unity of the opera as a whole. Parisian nobles were scandalized when they showed up late to Tannhäuser and realized they had already missed the ballet, which Wagner put early in Act I for dramatic reasons, rather than keeping it as a separate spectacle.

      In both of these divisions, the central issue was the same. Wagner disliked formal constraints and wanted the music to serve the work as a whole – I would say it serves the story, but for Wagner even the story is in service of some greater expression. (Maybe it’s socialism, maybe it’s the importance of love over law, maybe it’s anti-semitism, maybe it’s German nationalism – all of these are central themes of the Ring Cycle, and I love the cycle, even though I don’t really approve of any of these messages.) So where Brahms would write a four movement symphony with a sonata allegro, a slow theme and variations, a scherzo, and a rondo finale; and where Verdi would write an opera with the right number of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass roles, an aria for each, a few duets, and a ballet; Wagner would write a weird sprawling thing with no formal organization to follow.

      The way Wagner dealt with this was through the Leitmotiv. Once you learn to recognize the different leitmotifs, you can see how Wagner is composing the whole opera. Probably the easiest to recognize motifs are the ones for the sword, Siegfried, the Valkyries, the horses, Valhalla. There are less recognizable ones for the Ring, the gold, the denunciation of love, forgetting, fate. Once you start listening for them, you can understand much more of what is going on. When Wotan crosses the Rainbow Bridge into Valhalla, you can hear not only the castle and the rainbow bridge, but the defeat of the Giants, and Wotan’s sudden idea to create a sword that a hero will wield decades from now to get the Ring back. When Brunnhilde is punished by Wotan for breaking his command, the music plays for you not just the magic fire that Wotan is using to lock her up, and the law that Brunnhilde betrayed, but also plays for you the love that Wotan has for his daughter, and the tension between that love and the law, and also plays the sounds of the hero without fear that Wotan eventually agrees can rescue Brunnhilde from the fire in the future. My favorite specific motif is one that appears only twice over the entire four evenings of the cycle – once in the second opera, when Brunnhilde defies Wotan to save Sieglinde and the child she will some day bear, and once at the very end of the cycle, when Brunnhilde takes the Ring and jumps with it into the flood of the Rhine to destroy it and its curse while Valhalla burns in the background. I think this is the theme of “the triumph of love over power”.

      The motifs aren’t just sequence of notes that bring forth images either – they are rigorously musically related to each other in many ways. The motifs of nature (the Rhein, the Earth, the Rainbow) all emphasize octaves and perfect fifths. The motifs of magic and treachery emphasize minor thirds and chromatic steps. The motifs of the horses, travel, and related concepts share a dotted rhythm. The triumph of love over power is the inversion of the denunciation of love to gain power. The sword, the hero without fear, and the hunt all emphasize the major triad.

      But this composition by leitmotif does end up meaning that most of the melodies are simplistic and/or disjointed, and you don’t have a clear sense of when one song ends and the next begins, because you’re hearing snippets of the same stuff in different mixtures for several nights. It’s not like listening to Brahms (where each movement has its own themes to expose, develop, and recapitulate) or Verdi (where each singer gets their own songs to show off their voice).

      So what I recommend for someone who wants to give the Ring Cycle its fair attempt, is that you should do some study of the leitmotifs in advance. Then when you actually attend a production, you can properly understand the music on its own terms, rather than seeing it as just unstructured post-Beethoven “stuff”. (You’ll also appreciate how much more sophisticated Wagner’s use of these leitmotifs is than John Williams, though Williams does use a lot of this technique to excellent effect.) I’m sure you can find many discussions and examples on YouTube, but when I was learning this stuff a few decades ago, I found this amazing two-CD set where Deryck Cooke explains the motifs and then plays samples from the various operas that demonstrate those motifs. He starts by describing a bunch of the motifs, but later starts showing how they are transformed and related to each other:

      https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Ring-Nibelungen-CD/dp/B00000424H

      I think Das Rheingold is the most approachable – like The Hobbit, it was intended as a story that could stand alone, even though it’s the prequel to the trilogy that follows, and it’s also a lot shorter and more mythological than the later ones. But Die Walkure could also be a good one, given its number of great moments (the twincest duet, the Ride of the Valkyries, and the magic fire music that ends it). I only tolerate Siegfried because it’s part of the whole series, and Gotterdammerung is a great ending, but not a good way to try to get into it.

  15. smocc says:

    Thought that made me laugh but that might actually be relevant for discussions of UBI:

    Mass technological unemployment happened a long time ago in the US, but it only happened to children.

    • Anteros says:

      Yes it’s sort of true, and while not wanting to squish the joke, all I can see is that we’ve found numerous ways to fill the void.

    • Well... says:

      Of course, children happened to commute into this country from the benevolent semi-autonomous miniature dictatorships they lived in, whose rulers were generally willing to provide the children with UBI in the form of goods and services, if not actual money.

    • Scoop says:

      What’s odd is that I think mass technological unemployment may have made many kids less happy.

      I’m sure going to school and hanging with friends is more fun that working in some Dickensian sweatshop, but it is utterly lacking in meaning, and kids know this.

      I think many got more pleasure and, more importantly, a sense that they were making a contribution to the world by helping on the family farm or working as an apprentice.

      • Randy M says:

        Helping on the farm or being an apprentice–yes, I can see that.
        Working as a chimney sweep or in a factory, eh, not so sure. Hard to feel empowered when you have trouble breathing and so on.
        Childhood unemployment seems a necessary (eventual) aspect of industrialization.

        • Scoop says:

          Yes, I wasn’t clear about that. The terrible Dickensian jobs clearly were not good for kids.

          Jobs where they learn real skills, take real responsibility and have the sense of helping their families are the ones that I’d guess are better than the current situation.

      • smocc says:

        It’s also possible that “contributing substantively to family farm / craft” > “school” > “sweatshop / chimneysweep”.

        There’s an anecdote I can’t properly remember along the lines of a researcher interviewing kids who drop out of school to work in factories and being told something like “yeah working in the factory isn’t great, but school is _hard_.” Now I need to look this up.

      • OxytocinLove says:

        What? That’s very counter to my experience with children. While many see school as pointless, I’ve never heard of a child complaining of the lack of meaning and purpose in playing and hanging out with friends. I’m sure it happens, but it’s a cultural trope that that feeling sets in in one’s early twenties.

        • j1000000 says:

          Yes, both in my memory and in the common trope as I see it, the problem is almost the opposite and everything is TOO significant and meaningful to teenagers. They think no one else has felt unrequited love in the way they do, or that their football team winning the conference offers them significance, or that this finals week will determine their future. Then, when they’re older, they realize everyone is always getting divorced and in the scheme of things they sucked at football.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      I think it’s subtly wrong. The usual phrasing for technological unemployment implies the unemployment is involuntary, and caused by technology.

      The disappearance of child labor is driven by a mix of:

      1. increased household incomes (having children be unproductive until adulthood doesn’t cause starvation anymore).
      2. vastly increased returns to schooling (we can’t send the kids to the factory for full shifts if they’re going to school).
      3. laws banning/restricting most forms of child labor (so to the extent there are people for whom the first two reasons won’t stop them from looking for work, employers are enjoined from offering it).

      1 and 2 aren’t involuntary, and 3 is legal, not technological, in nature.

      • keaswaran says:

        Sure, 3 is legal. But laws banning things don’t usually have a tendency to pass until technological alternatives are feasible. It’s much easier to ban slavery in an industrial society than in a plantation agricultural one, and it’s much easier to ban fossil fuel use for purposes that have good alternatives.

  16. Edward Scizorhands says:

    https://twitter.com/mugecevik/status/1257392347010215947

    A collection of a bunch of test-and-trace analyses. Bottom-line is that you need to be within six feet of someone for at least 15 minutes (or share living quarters with them) to have a measurable chance of being infected. Being older also significantly increases the chances of infection, not just of developing significant symptoms.

    If I understand correctly, pre-emptive self-quarantine of contacts of known cases (people who haven’t yet been tested) massively drives down the number of people ultimately infected, per case.

    #9 looked at cases where children were the vector and found ~10% transmission to someone else in the home. Does this suggest that children are not significant vectors? Maybe we can re-open schools after all.

    • bernie638 says:

      We are RED on the Waffle House Index nationwide! I don’t want to open my eyes, much less the schools.

      I’m not always a pessimist, but all I have recently is bad news. Here’s more: the GiantCorp I work for is attempting to manufacture it’s own bleach based cleaning solution to use (not to sell). This is NOT something they do, they have no experience in any chemical manufacturing, none. Apparently they are having trouble getting enough to maintain the facilities and since we really are essential, they are doing what they have to do. The company’s internal news is celebrating making 2000 gallons so far.

      The point is that if the essential industries are having trouble getting enough cleaning supplies with everything else shut down, how can we possibly open up schools (or anything else)?

      • emdash says:

        Played devils advocate.

        Maybe having a bunch of disinfectant on hand (to remove virus from surfaces I presume) is a waste of time and effort and not actually a condition that needs to be met in order to safely reopen. Particularly if it is reopening something like a school and it turns out that 1) children are much less likely to contract and/or spread and 2) almost all transmission is through breathing the same air (and so disinfecting surfaces does very little to minimize risk). Especially considering the gigantic short and long term costs of schools being closed.

        I don’t think there is enough evidence yet to settle these questions, but my current sense is that the existing evidence points weakly towards both of those assertions being true.

        Probably a little personally sensitive on this issue since the local university recently suggested that ‘having enough hand sanitizer’ was one of their criteria for reopening safely, despite lacking clear criteria about the number of people per room/unit area which strikes me as much more important.

        • bernie638 says:

          True for Covid maybe, and it would be a perfect fit for the year of our lord 2020 when they open up the schools and two weeks later half the kids are back at home with strep, pink eye, or head lice!

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        The point is that if the essential industries are having trouble getting enough cleaning supplies with everything else shut down, how can we possibly open up schools (or anything else)?

        This seems like a good argument for opening up cleaning supply companies or whatever part of their supply chain is closed down and preventing them from appropriately scaling up production.

        The longer the lock-downs go on, the more we realize that essential industries rely on less essential industries for their sustained operation. This effect is going to become more visible as time goes on. How long can we keep auto maintenance shops closed before people can’t get to work in essential industries?

        Note that this is not an argument for carelessly or immediately lifting all the restrictions that are currently in place. It’s an observation that the economy is very complex and interconnected and the strategy we use to manage it will have to be complex as well.

        • bernie638 says:

          Amen.

          Unfortunately, the entire world has “essential” things that are ALL (or at least most) increasing the use of any and all disinfectants. I’m unsure if we lost some capacity to make as much as we made before, or if we have maxed out existing capacity and are unwilling(?) to build bigger/hire more workers to raise capacity because the places that make the stuff aren’t convinced aur new found love of cleanliness we last long enough to make it worthwhile.

        • keaswaran says:

          “How long can we keep auto maintenance shops closed before people can’t get to work in essential industries?”

          Haven’t most jurisdictions classified auto maintenance as essential from day 1? I thought most of them counted bike mechanics as essential as well, for precisely the same reason.

      • albatross11 says:

        Note: If you have bleach with a known concentration, making sanitizer or disinfectant is really simple–just following a straightforward recipe. I have been doing this at home, FWIW.

        • bernie638 says:

          Agree, but getting it right on an industrial scale might be more challenging. I can figure out how to make a quart of good bleach based disinfectant for use right now, however, mixing a 55 gallon drum of the stuff that will not dissociate leaving half of it underpowered and the other half with a dangerous concentration after sitting for two weeks may be different. I’m not a chemist.

      • I was completely unaware of the Waffle House Index and just googled it to educate myself. Thank you for bringing that US-cultural tidbit to my attention, it’s quite delightful!

    • Three Year Lurker says:

      Great news for introverts. When someone approaches, start a 5 minute timer. When the timer expires, they must immediately leave.

      The focus on disinfecting surfaces could be explained by sampling methods. We can measure what is on a surface easily, but measuring how much is in the air is more difficult. So effort is focused on the observable metric.

      The #9 you mention contradicts your “bottom-line”. Children in schools are within 6 feet of 5-10 others for 45-60 minutes at a time, essentially 8 hours a day. This should be ideal for anything spreading through the air.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I think the result of #9 is that while children probably infect each other, they don’t infect others in their household as much as we would expect.

    • baconbits9 says:

      80% of infections caused by 9% of cases

      More evidence its fat tail driven, more evidence that the current approach is flat dumb.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        What policies should we have to deal with the fat tails?

        • John Schilling says:

          Step one would be focused research on what exactly the fat tails are. A priori, shutting down the schools was absolutely the right move – we had a limited time to maybe contain an outbreak of a contagious respiratory virus, and with most contagious respiratory viruses, children in a typical school environment are dirty, enthusiastic superspreaders. Now, it is starting to look like we didn’t need to do that and we should maybe stop doing that.

          But we know this two to three months later, because small groups of independent researchers decided to poke at this corner of the problem with very limited resources. We should have known it two months ago and with high confidence because the CDC made a deliberate effort to find the answer, or barring that one month ago because State governors ordered their health departments to pick up the slack where the CDC fell on its face. And I’m not seeing much better performance on that front from other countries, either.

          Same logic applies to everything else that might or might not be a major source of superspreader events. And it’s getting close to too late to get started, because “I dunno, lockdown everything I guess” is running out of tolerance and public trust.

  17. JohnNV says:

    I wanted to start a thread about general aviation – if I remember correctly, there are a few pilots who comment here. I’ve been a pilot since 2001 (training at the same school at the same time as Mohammad Atta; I’m certain I crossed paths with him at least once). It’s been disappointing over the last two decades watching an industry that seemed to have such promise dwindle and die. I’m 42, and almost all the pilots I know are older than me. The number one issue I hear is cost – a new Cessna 172 in 1971 was $14000 ($82k in todays dollars) whereas today the cheapest Cessna 172 which has nicer avionics but is basically the same plane is nearly $400k. But why? I can understand the rising costs at least somewhat being the result of spreading fixed costs over a smaller group of pilots, but we can’t then attribute the drop in pilots to strictly costs, as the spiral has to start somewhere? Being able to go places quickly without having to worry about traffic or airline/airport hassles and buying a ticket months in advance is valuable, it would be nice if I could understand why fewer and fewer people want to take advantage of that freedom.

    • johan_larson says:

      My impression is that much of the decline can be traced to liability problems. Light-aircraft manufacturers pretty much got sued out of the business.

      Using light aircraft for travel also turned out to have some problems, since you typically need a car at the other end to get around. Light aircraft are much slower than jetliners, and you still need to get out to the airfield, which is likely to be way outside town. It’s a pretty narrow window of distances where it makes sense to fly a light aircraft rather than driving or taking a scheduled flight.

      • John Schilling says:

        Liability issues basically shut down light-aircraft manufacturing in the 1980s, and while the laws were changed to at least partially alleviate the issue in the late 1990s, production numbers never really recovered and so fixed costs are driving the unit cost to ~$400K per new Cessna 172 or equivalent. I discussed this a bit, with numbers, in the “Cost Disease” thread.

        Which means catch-22, you can’t expand the market base when every marginal-wannabe pilot looks and sees that they’ll never be able to afford their own (new) plane. Used planes are still reasonably affordable; I got mine for $50K a decade ago and in superb mechanical condition, but the supply won’t last and it’s less than ideal for attracting new pilots.

        I would think that the rise of Uber would go a long way towards solving the last-mile problem, and it’s been useful for some of my travels but I don’t know how common that is among pilots. My normal solution is a folding bicycle in the back of the plane, which cuts the seating capacity from four to two but gets me reasonable access to anyplace within 5-10 miles of an airport. But that’s for people in good enough shape to bike, and comfortable biking in a possibly unfamiliar urban environment.

        • Garrett says:

          I’d be interested in learning to fly and getting my pilot’s license. But having to plan on paying “buy a house” money for something that small/light/whatever is insane.

          • John Schilling says:

            Where are you buying houses for $50K? Yes, it’s down payment on a house money, but then I only put $10K down on the plane (and could have got that down to $5K if I’d had to).

            I think one barrier to entry for prospective new pilots is not understanding a basic rule of aircraft economics, and that’s something I can try to address right now: Only very silly rich people buy brand new airplanes for their personal use. Back in the 1970s, at the peak of the general aviation industry, you could back that off to “moderately silly upper middle class people”, but it’s never been the smart move.

            It’s roughly equivalent to an amateur machinist pricing brand-new CNC milling machines and giving up in despair. Airplanes aren’t cars, they aren’t consumer goods designed to be traded in for a newer model when the styles change. They are industrial equipment, built to industrial-equipment standards even if the intended market is mostly hobbyists, designed to last many decades of constant use. They have to be, because if you design them to automotive standards too many optimistic fools will find the absolute limit to their service lives while two miles over a city.

            That makes them much more expensive. But it also means that if you’re only planning to fly on the occasional weekend, or in my case an hour every weekday, you can buy an airplane 20, 30, even 40 years old with a fair expectation that your children will inherit it in good airworthy condition. Let a silly rich person buy your airplane first, and buy it from him when he’s ready to trade up for a newer model. Or a flight school or a charter service or whatnot, that’s going to put it through a decade of regular use before putting it out to pasture.

            My airplane is now four owners removed from the silly rich(ish) person who bought it new. One or two more than I would have preferred, but they all kept absolutely meticulous maintenance records.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Rather than buy your own used plane, joining a flying club can be a much better option. When I lived in the US I was going to join one which was capped at 34 members with a waitlist to get in:
            $5k to buy in, returned on leaving the club
            $100 per month dues
            cheap hourly rate for the aircraft:
            $169 per hour wet for a 6-seat Bonanza
            $137 per hour wet for a 4-seat cessna 182
            $110 per hour wet for a 2-seat RV

            All the aircraft were in great condition, hangared or covered and the club had a clubhouse with monthly social events. Far, far better value than anything you’d get buying your own for most aircraft owners. About $800k worth of airplanes and getting to fly them nearly at cost for $100 a month is a steal.

          • Lambert says:

            I hear that if you’ve got £3000 burning a hole in your pocket they’ll let you fly a Spitfire from Biggin Hill.

          • Garrett says:

            > Where are you buying houses for $50K?

            Southwestern PA. Granted, I paid twice that for mine, but still. Is financing available through banks much like an expensive car loan?

            @LesHapablap: How did the rates work if you want to fly somewhere for a weekend? Now that I think about it, how does *everything* work if you want to fly somewhere for a weekend?

          • JohnNV says:

            @garrett:
            The hourly rate only applies while the engine is turning. Some clubs have a daily minimum if you’re going to have the plane for the whole day but others don’t. Occasionally there’s a parking fee at the destination airport, but it’s rarely high. I have a client near Islip airport on Long Island which is also a commercial airport. I fly in there and park on the general aviation side of the field and pay less per day than I would to park my car at the airport.

            Most of the time, the hourly rate includes the price of fuel, but if you fill the tanks at your destination, you just keep the receipt and get reimbursed by the club. John Shilling is right that Uber/Lyft make a huge difference in getting from the airport to your final destination, back in the 2000s this was one of the biggest headaches as it wasn’t easy to rent a car at small local airports.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, airplanes are financed very much like cars. Loan durations can be longer because airplanes are more durable than cars, and I think the interest rates are about half a point lower because less risk, but same concept.

            If you’re renting a plane for the weekend, whether from a club or an FBO(*) , the rental rate is based on actual flying time but with a minimum of say two hours per day. And for weekend trips you’ll want to book it in advance if possible, because it’s hit-or-miss whether there will be an airplane available for a full weekend on Friday morning.

            Whether rental or personally owned, if you’re flying somewhere for the weekend, you show up at the airport, collect the keys and paperwork from the FBO if applicable, do a preflight inspection of the airplane, and fly away. If you’re doing it under Instrument Flight Rules, you’ll have to file a flight plan and talk to air traffic controllers the whole way. Visual Flight Rules, flight plans are optional, the sky is pretty much yours as long as you stay out of other people’s way, and you’ll only have to talk to controllers in the vicinity of airports with active control towers (only about a third of the total in the United States, and some of them are only part-time affairs). If there isn’t a traffic controller for you to talk to, there’s usually a common radio frequency for all pilots in the area to talk to each other on, but that’s a strong recommendation rather than a hard requirement – some airplanes even in the 21st century don’t have radios.

            When you get where you are going, you land (maybe talking to that airport’s tower), taxi to that airport’s FBO, and park. There will be a fee of say $5-10 for overnight “parking”, usually waived the first night if you buy their fuel. Some airports will have a public ramp where you can just tie the airplane down and walk away, and/or self-service fuel pumps. There are web sites and printed guides where you can find out in advance.

            There’s no TSA-style security, but post-9/11 there’s almost always a fence with a locked gate, so you’ll need to get the combination (often printed inside the gate for visiting pilots). How you get from the airport to the final destination is up to you, but most FBOs will help out. In olden days, it was common for them to have a beater car or two to be loaned to visiting pilots on a first-come-first-serve basis; less common now but some have established agreements with rental-car companies. And now we have Uber, Lyft, and folding bicycles. Unfortunately, the general-aviation airport usually isn’t served by local public transportation.

            To get home, reverse the above process. And note that this is US-centric; other countries have different rules, but usually not too different at least in the Anglosphere.

            * Fixed Base Operator, the aviation equivalent of an automotive full-service station with the emphasis on “full” and usually offering rentals.

      • Matt M says:

        I had a CO in the Navy who also owned a plane and flew for fun. He always told us that they were so expensive to own/operate/maintain that even if someone gave you one for free, the smart financial decision would be to refuse.

    • Well... says:

      Being able to go places quickly without having to worry about traffic or airline/airport hassles and buying a ticket months in advance

      Is that really why people become pilots? I thought it was just some kind of ethereal thrill-seeking, the freedom of soaring in the clouds or some such thing — or else an obsession with airplane-as-gadget. Or maybe some pilots played a lot of flight sims as kids and then as adults wanted to make the experience real. The practical ability to go places quickly without hassle makes sense, it just doesn’t seem like having to earn one’s pilot’s license and buy a plane would be worth it to many people.

      • John Schilling says:

        It’s not why I became a pilot; that was definitely for the fun of it. But it is why I bought my own plane. Buying, maintaining, and flying the airplane to and from work (almost) every weekday, was cheaper than buying a house anywhere within reasonable driving distance of work. This in the Los Angeles area.

        • Well... says:

          How did that work? I imagine it’s slim odds to have a workplace in LA that also happens to be near the kind of airport you could fly a private plane into without then having to commute by car for [some long amount of time in LA traffic]. And, did you have a spare car to keep at that airport?

          • JPNunez says:

            Folding Bike on the plane.

          • John Schilling says:

            And workplace three miles from the Hawthorne municipal airport.

          • Scoop says:

            And workplace three miles from the Hawthorne municipal airport.

            1. I just looked up the location. I’m amazed there’s another active airport that close to LAX.

            2. What would one of those single-story houses on the nearby streets cost? The neighborhood doesn’t look too expensive, and I can’t imagine preferring more space and a nicer neighborhood inland to the weather on the west side of the mountains.

          • John Schilling says:

            For #1, the 105 freeway makes it easy – anything south of the 105 and below 5000 feet belongs to HHR, anything north of the 105 belongs to LAX, which makes for a bloody obvious landmark for traffic deconfliction. In IFR weather, the approach into HHR starts way out near Pomona so approach control has plenty of time to sort things out.

            For #2, decent houses in Hawthorne start at about $700K, whereas I got mine in Lancaster for $200K. Including central heating and air conditioning, so I mostly don’t care about the weather – I get more complaints about the heat from my friends in the LA basin than I experience here, because LA basin homes often don’t have AC in spite of the ridiculous prices.

          • Scoop says:

            @JS

            I’m surprised by those prices, but I’m always surprised by the prices in LA neighborhoods that don’t look all that nice judging from typical signs: people on the streets, what the local stores sell, how well the buildings are maintained, etc.

            As for the weather, I feel like having perfect weather every day would just make life better. Part of me wished I’d moved there right out of college.

      • JohnNV says:

        Yeah, I think you have a point. Purely personally, I learned how to fly because I just enjoyed the mastery of a complex machine, but now that I’ve put in the effort, want to find ways to make it practical. But I think the same could be said of automobile drivers in the 1910s, and the industry evolved to find practical uses and eventually base the entire economy around them, but that just hasn’t happened with light aviation.

    • cassander says:

      fun fact, for the cost of a new cessna, you can get a modestly used mach 2 fighter. Granted, the Draken probably costs a bit more per hour than the cessna, but you get there faster, so it should all wash…

  18. salvorhardin says:

    Anyone have any recent data/reportage/estimates about the true state of COVID-19 in Nicaragua? They were a prominent outlier country in terms of not locking down, to the point of still (albeit under restricted conditions) holding public sporting events into April. There were lots of alarming articles saying they were going to get whacked… but Worldometer says they have 15 cases and 5 dead. Is this underreporting and there really is a disaster going on there? Or did they get lucky because nobody from the hotspot countries wants to go to Nicaragua anyway? Or is there something else going on?

    • matkoniecz says:

      15 cases and 5 dead

      With how many tests? 16? 20? 100? 20 000?

      • salvorhardin says:

        Hard to tell, and that’s definitely part of the issue. But if their approach were going to be a disaster, you should see a big spike in overall excess deaths by now, no?

        • matkoniecz says:

          Not in a small, uninteresting countries with extremely poor government. Is Nicaragua fitting at least some of that characterization?

          • salvorhardin says:

            Population of Nicaragua is about 6.5 million. Denmark, with a slightly smaller population, has 503 deaths per Worldometer and is considered to have done one of the more effective containment jobs in the non-Asian world. So if Nicaragua had disastrous exponential spread, you’d expect at least several thousand excess deaths. Even with the poor institutional quality of Nicaragua and the relatively low level of attention paid to it internationally, I find it hard to believe that that many excess deaths wouldn’t show up in reportage, at a time when every reporter in the world is much more likely than usual to be looking for spike-of-excess-deaths stories. Their RSF press freedom ranking is poor, but not North Korea- or even China-level poor, and it seems like it would take at least China-level information suppression to hide something like that.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @salvorhardin
            Just to give you another example, we haven’t heared anything about the excess deaths in Germany, mainly because those numbers haven’t been congregated yet. But they are very proud that they were able to publish preliminary data until early April…
            And if Germany is that shit in gathering data, I wouldn’t been surprised if that is also true for Nicaragua.

        • Statismagician says:

          The thing to remember is that overall mortality figures have to be put together (and compared to previous figures also put together) by somebody. CDC have put a gigantic amount of effort and funding into setting up the US mortality data surveillance systems, and they still produce fuzzy data best taken with salt – who’s Nicaragua got on this, exactly?

          • salvorhardin says:

            Right, I believe that their official data are crap. But would you really not get unofficial horror stories spreading if 0.1% or more of the population had died of COVID in the last month or two?

          • Statismagician says:

            Well, maybe. But if it’s more like 0.1% – (portion of the most at-risk groups who already died of something else, in a region with lots of endemic disease and pretty bad medical care), with a higher cultural risk tolerance and less media penetration? Maybe not, I don’t know. But Worldometers haven’t got useful numbers for Nicaragua unless they’re much better than I think they are, is my point.

  19. theodidactus says:

    Taking social distancing to the next level:

    A horrible new psychotoxic virus overruns the planet in a matter of hours, utterly reshaping human civilization. Let’s call it ANTICONWAY. Whenever one person has more than one other person within six feet of them, even for a split-second, all three people have a small but non-negligible chance (say .01%) of dying in the next 24 hours.

    Naturally, many millions die before scientists even figure out what is going on…but eventually, this new situation will have to become normal. There is no fixing the ANTICONWAY phenomenon. Is modern society totally screwed, or can we readily adapt? What will change? What will remain the same?

    • Randy M says:

      Childbrith becomes rather problematic.

      edit: Moreover, this probably ends the human race pretty quickly, as having more than two children becomes a death sentence for all involved.

      If the problem is found almost immediately, I suppose we could adapt, with couples splitting after the children are born and coming together only to conceive the second child to keep the fertility rate above 1. This is a pretty dystopian premise.

      • Jaskologist says:

        How does one even raise children at a rate above replacement level? We’re going to need robot nurses very quickly.

        • JPNunez says:

          The human race can resist a long time below replacement rate.

          Demand for robot nurses will come accompanied for demand for robot old people caretakers so it will happen very fast.

          Eventually mankind will live like the Spacers in Asimov novels, although checking the density of Earth is around 50 people per square km (140 per square mile) so it won’t be that dramatic. It will probably be around half that after the first waves of ANTICONWAY kill millions of people, tho. This, however, makes global warming worse (because now we have to move products a lot more) and since we are occupying even the deserts, a lot of people live in extreme hot climate.

          It depends a lot of how anticonway behaves at bigger distances. Maybe people can accomodate living in less dense towns where machines coordinate human movement and we can avoid the Spacer situation.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Orgies become even more thrilling.

    • WoollyAI says:

      A couple thoughts:

      Extended family networks come back: I don’t see any reasonable way a nuclear family can have above replacement children (ie, 3 kids) without help. The simplest and most scalable way (especially outside the us) is a return to extended family networks, ie grandma/grandpa, aunts, and uncles all join in in child rearing. You just have to be able to split up that workflow. Especially considering that you don’t just need childcare but education; public schools are gone, homeschooling is the norm.

      Corporal punishment for kids: How else do you train a 3-4 year old not to immediately run to mommy when he cuts himself or falls down?

      Travel: This is pretty gone. No planes, no trains, even automobiles change radically because I’m pretty sure I get within 6ft of people all the time on the freeway.

      Hazard pay: That risk is low enough that some things still get done, you’ll just have to provide massive incentives. For example, heart surgeons and EMTs are probably still a thing because you’ll trade a 1/10000 chance of a medical team dying to save someone’s life any day. That just won’t be a long-term thing, I would imagine someone doing it for a year or two (4-8% chance of death) and then retiring. Same for firefighters, soldiers in wartime, etc.

    • Steven J says:

      Does the probability of death vary with the number of excess people within six feet, or on the length of time they stay within six feet? If so, you should specify what scenario the 0.01 percent chance of death applies to. It greatly matters whether its 0.01 percent per person over 2 per second within six feet, vs. 0.01 percent for any number of people over two for any length of time.

      • theodidactus says:

        I’m no psychotoxicologist, but my understanding is that it’s the latter. That is to say, the very second any person has more than 2 people within six feet of them, everyone within that six foot zone suddenly has a 0.01% chance of dying of anticonway within 24 hours.

        Because of complex psionic resonances, these fields do not stack. Like I said I’m not an expert so I have no idea what happens if you pack like 400 people into a complex chain shape.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      I’d need to know what the chance is if they are close for longer than a split second, maybe an hour or so.

      But while major adaptations would be necessary – certainly we would live in a far more dispersed mode *even* if the distance does not apply vertically (in which case every second storey of most buildings would have to be evacuated) – it would surely be survivable.

      Many day to day and industrial operations would have to be hugely modified, others could go on much as they do now.

      • theodidactus says:

        As per my answer above, exposure (of any kind) triggers a .01% chance of death within the next 24 hours, at which point it resets. That’s how psychotoxins work I think.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          So people stay away from other people . . . except for when they decide to accept the 1-in-10,000 risk, and then they cram all the things that need meeting other people into a 24-hour window.

          • theodidactus says:

            An interesting implication I had not considered. This scenario just got even weirder.

          • Steven J says:

            With the risk capped at 0.01% per day, I expect that most people will chose to roll the dice on a fair number of days, and cram everything into those days that they can.

            If you roll the dice on one day per month, you have a ~91% chance of living at least 80 years before catching anticonway.
            If you roll the dice on one day per week, you have a ~66% chance of living at least 80 years before catching anticonway.
            If you roll the dice every single day, you have a ~48% chance of living at least 20 years before catching anticonway.

            At those odds, I would expect most young men without families to roll the dice a couple of days per week. Then get risk averse when they have kids and dropping down to 1 dice day per month or less. Kids would probably be prohibited from taking more than a negligible number of non-emergency dice days.

          • theodidactus says:

            Of course, every time you anticonway, you threaten not only yourself, but (at least) two other people…so I guess it ends up looking a lot more like Coronavirus than I expected: the biggest shifts involve very large gatherings, transit, etc, but you could actually still have two friends over for a drink 1 night a week and it ends up being a vice a bit like smoking.

            Funny how percentages work out.

    • Leafhopper says:

      I had an SCP-ish idea similar to this: a virus which spreads by thought. Specifically, if a given person has the virus, the more you think about this person, the higher your chance of spontaneously developing the virus yourself. You don’t need to know this person is infected for the mechanism to work. The infectee is only dangerous as long as he’s alive; once he dies, you can think about him as much as you like without getting sick.

      This is more of a straightforward species-ender, though.

    • Jiro says:

      How often does it check to see if you’re together? That is, if you’re together for 1 minute, is there still a .01% chance? What if you’re together for a year?

      • theodidactus says:

        It’s clear as I perform more research on this dangerous possibility, it works as described above:

        Every time one person is within six feet of two other people, it flags them. The flag lasts 24 hours. At the end of the 24 hour period, all three people have a .01% chance of dying.

    • Purplehermann says:

      It’s well known that you get 6,930 days of human contact (with more than one other person), before you reach a 50% chance of dying from it. This is about 18 years straight.

      You get about 8 years straight before a 25% chance, 500 days for 5% chance.

      Part of the virtual education every child gets includes a thorough understanding of probability and life planning, so they can spread their days or risk across their life.

      An example template would be spreading 100 days thtough a baby’s early life, another 400-900 spread from early life to adulthood, 8 years total lasting till 50, then not worrying about your own chances for the rest of your life.

      School will finally undergo a fundamental reform, as mass lecturing becomes untenable and the cheap childcare is no longer useful.

      Jobs that require multiple people in close quarters will get danger pay.

      Governmental leaders will not live as long and/or will be less corrupt, security will be take years off their lives

      • Purplehermann says:

        Also, people carry precisely measured 6 foot+ a bit sticks when venturing outside

        • John Schilling says:

          A smallsword (or, for wimps, a fencing foil) at full reach probably gives you about six feet of distancing. If we have to to do this, I vote we bring back the old rules…

    • noyann says:

      An interesting new instrument for suicidal terrorists.

  20. Purplehermann says:

    So, about socks. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts. Here are some things I’ve been wondering.

    How much time do you spend matching? How much time does an average family? How does time spent matching scale based on family size?

    How long do your socks last you, and when do you give up on that sock whose pair you haven’t found in a while?

    Do you care about the designs or colors?
    What do you think about people who wear obviously mismatched socks?
    Do you bother getting the right size?
    Do you try different brands to see which is more comfortable?

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      I dislike wearing socks except when essential due to weather conditions. Same for most shoes (but felt slippers are okay).

      How much time do you spend matching?

      Almost none. Just stick ’em on a pile and pick a couple that are similar.

      How long do your socks last you, and when do you give up on that sock whose pair you haven’t found in a while?

      Until they tear.

      Do you care about the designs or colors?

      I prefer they be absent, but don’t care much if they are there.

      What do you think about people who wear obviously mismatched socks?

      They have their life priorities in order.

      Do you bother getting the right size?

      Most stores don’t even carry my size.

    • rocoulm says:

      How much time do you spend matching? How much time does an average family? How does time spent matching scale based on family size?

      I match them as I pull them out of the drier; it probably adds 5 minutes or so.

      How this scales with family size probably depends on your laundry strategy. Given that load size is pretty much constant (washing machines only get so big), it depends on whether you do frequent single loads, or if you do less-frequent laundry days, resulting in multiple loads with everyone’s clothes mixed together. In the first case, you’d spend the same time sorting per load, but loads/month would scale linearly with family size, so sorting time should as well. In the second case, if you’re dividing multiple laundry baskets into multiple loads of laundry, and if the clothes become thoroughly mixed, there’s a chance sorting socks could take much longer.

      Obviously, this will also depend on how much variety there is in your family members’ sock choices.

      How long do your socks last you, and when do you give up on that sock whose pair you haven’t found in a while?

      Maybe a year? I have a really hard time keeping track of stuff that happens at that sort of time scale. I also buy and replace socks in “generations”, trying to retire all of one type of sock at around the same time and replacing them with a single bulk purchase.

      Do you care about the designs or colors?

      I care about length and texture, mostly. I wouldn’t buy neon socks, but most whites/grays are fine.

      What do you think about people who wear obviously mismatched socks?

      I probably wouldn’t notice, and wouldn’t really have an opinion if I did.

      Do you bother getting the right size?

      I have unusually large feet, so it’s easy to get ones that are uncomfortably small. I’ve usually seen them listed as ranges, like “sizes 11-14” or so. (I wear 13)

      Do you try different brands to see which is more comfortable?

      Not really. I’m always tempted to go with the cheapest, but I’ve been burnt by that enough that I usually go with the second-cheapest, and that works okay.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      My wife loves specialty socks and I hate them because it means there is a giant pile of socks that needs matching.

    • Incurian says:

      Aside from a few specialty socks, I just keep dozens of the same kind of sock so I don’t need to worry about matching. I replace them every few years. My latest batch is Dickies Men’s Dri-tech Moisture Control Crew Socks Multipack https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0757RXZJH/

    • ana53294 says:

      I have two types of socks: short and long ones, all in one color. I also have thick woolen ones for winter.

      Since they are of the same color, it doesn’t matter if I lose one. I keep the spare one until I lose another one in a pair, and then I have a pair.

      I don’t spend much time matching them, but more time folding (I follow the Marie Kondo method of folding clothing). 2-3 minutes per week folding, I’d say.

    • Jake says:

      We have 4 kids and used to spend far too much time matching socks and putting them away, only to have kids never have socks on when we needed to head out the door. Then, I read a random reddit thread about strange things your family did that you thought was normal, where someone mentioned that their family had a sock box by the front door, and whenever you needed socks, you just grabbed a pair from the sock box. Now all of our kids socks go unmatched into a big basket by the door, and on your way out the door, you just grab whatever looks good, matching or not. My girls love it because they think it is fun, and we love it because it saves a ton of tedious time matching socks and running to get them from rooms.

      Personally, I prefer the method of finding a pair of socks you like for each use (for me I have dark work socks, white normal socks, and gray workout socks) and just throwing them all unmatched in a drawer and picking them by color. Also has the bonus that if one gets worn out, you can still match it with any of the others.

      • Anteros says:

        My intuition says you have a fun household.

        We do a similar thing by the front door… with crocs. It works fine for everyone else in the family except me – I can’t get my feet into anyone else’s crocs but they can all fit into mine. No problem except when my youngest goes out to feed the chickens she’ll waddle out in a pair of my crocs, which of course come back covered in chicken shit. Hey ho..

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t match socks at time of laundry. I toss them all in a big drawer and pull them out as I need.
      I use black Darn Tough socks on a daily basis, big puffy or boot socks for comfort, and some ankle-high moisture socks for cardio and weights.

      People buy me patterned socks. I never would buy them on my own, but I’ll wear them if people buy them. Even our VPs wear “wacky” socks, so that taboo is broken at work and I can wear pretty much whatever I want.

    • johan_larson says:

      How much time do you spend matching? How much time does an average family? How does time spent matching scale based on family size?

      I match mine when I put away the finished laundry. It takes a couple of minutes. Not a big deal, but then I only do my own laundry.

      How long do your socks last you, and when do you give up on that sock whose pair you haven’t found in a while?

      Not sure how long they last. A year, maybe? If I have an unpaired sock and can’t find its mate anywhere, I throw it out.

      Do you care about the designs or colors?

      I always buy plain socks, but I have worn some patterned ones that others have bought for me.

      What do you think about people who wear obviously mismatched socks?

      Daring fashion-forward trend-setters or just plain slobs. Mostly slobs.

      Do you bother getting the right size?

      The standard size for men fits me, and that’s usually all that’s available.

      Do you try different brands to see which is more comfortable?

      I’ve never compared carefully, but I have stopped wearing some socks that turned out to feel unpleasant after I got them home. They lay unloved and unused in the back of the sock drawer until I cleaned it out and tossed all the pairs I never wore.

    • JPNunez says:

      I don’t match socks, but will try (not very hard) to not wear dark and light socks at the same time.

    • DinoNerd says:

      When I buy socks, I buy as many pairs of identical socks as I can get. The next time I buy socks, I do the same thing, with a distinctively different colour. This generally results in me alternating between blue and grey socks.

      I’ve found that most stores won’t put enough identical socks on their shelves at the same time to make this convenient; in one memorable case I noticed 3 pairs of more-than-acceptable socks in a store, noted that the brand was also available online, and went home and ordered what I considered to be a reasonable number of pairs.

      Given this setup, matching is trvial, and continues to be trivial even as the socks develop holes in the toes, which seems inevitable. I match on removal from the clothes drier.

      I care about designs and colours – solids only, colours chosen to be unnoticeable combined with dockers, jeans, etc. I care more about materials – my feet need to breath, or I’ll wind up with yet another fungus infection.

      The standard generic size of men’s sock fits me, so fit is never an issue.

      I am concerned about the tightness of the elastic – too tight is somewhat uncomfortable; too loose eventually works its way down until part of my heel is bare. Some materials seem especially prone to this – I recognize them by feel, not by label, and avoid them.

      Everyone in my house currently does their own laundry – so no scale up for family size.

      I’m not sure how long my socks last. I’d guess a couple of years until I need a new batch, but I don’t generally start using all the new socks when I first get them. (If I have other clean socks available, I don’t start a previously unused pair.)

    • georgeherold says:

      Hah, About 20 years ago (I’m now ~60) I decided to buy only white socks. (A few dark pairs to wear with shoes on special occasions). Come laundry day, the dry whites get sorted into socks, undies (also all white)
      and other.. Tee shirts and such.) Socks are unsorted, and sometimes not folded. I seem to wear socks out at the big toe, and throw ’em out when I have a big toe hole on both ‘sides’ of the sock. (If a holed sock is the wrong side for your foot, you switch feet, or turn it inside out. (or outside in, ~1/2 my socks are already inside out.)) I find it’s nice to keep the number of sock pairs and undies about equal. You then run out of both at the same time, laundry day. :^)

      • keaswaran says:

        My partner declared several years ago that he gets black socks and I get white socks. I do all the laundry in the house, so I’m fine with this. When bundling the socks, I try to match his inside-out socks with other inside-out socks, but all my socks go through the wash right-side out so I don’t have to match them by this status.

    • I try to have all my socks the same (black). There are generally a few black socks of other styles lying around the drawer, and very rarely I try to pair them up and use them.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Oh dear, doesn’t that clash with many common trouser colors like navy blue and all shades of brown?

    • John Schilling says:

      I would prefer to have all my socks of two colors (white and black) and one style for each, but I can’t quite use “one-size-fits-all” socks, and I haven’t found a reliable supplier of large-size socks in one consistent style – they all want to sell me 3-packs or 6-packs with each pair a different pattern on the calves. So I wind up hunting through the sock drawer for a matching pair every time I pull out a new pair. Could do it when I’m sorting the laundry, but I’m not sure that would be a net time saver and I prefer the diffuse annoyance to more concentrated doses.

      • Randy M says:

        This is pretty much me, except my wife does out laundry at my mother-in-laws, and perhaps as a result I’m not sure I have any actual matched sets of black socks. My father-in-law is probably in a similar position.

    • OrangeJuiceCabal says:

      How much time do you spend matching? How much time does an average family? How does time spent matching scale based on family size?

      Hardly any. I only have white socks and dress socks, as well as some longer socks I’m not quite sure the name of for soccer. My family does the same thing for the most part, but sometimes I’ll be gifted eccentric socks for holidays and such. Depending on how much the hypothetical family cares about socks, time would either be greater than or equal to a smaller family. Greater than if the family has a “lord sock matcher” or tries to match to other family members for some reaoson, and equal to if they don’t care about matching and each member individually picks socks out or if one person picks out all of the socks in an orderly fashion.

      How long do your socks last you, and when do you give up on that sock whose pair you haven’t found in a while?

      I’ve had socks last from a few months to several years. After about 3 laundry runs I’ll either throw the sock away or use it for some practical use

      Do you care about the designs or colors?

      Not really, the only time colours come into play is when I need them to match a suit

      What do you think about people who wear obviously mismatched socks?

      I admire their rebellion against humanity

      Do you bother getting the right size?

      I try and get roughly the right size, but don’t bring my caliper to make sure I have acheived maximum comfort (yet)

      Do you try different brands to see which is more comfortable?

      If there is a scratchy brand I will avoid it in the future, but besides that, no

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      I get a lot of socks the same size and colour. Over time, they will start to vary a bit anyway, so after a wash I pair them up as best I can.

      I don’t worry about losing one, I just leave the spare aside until I lose another.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      People who have multiple colors and styles of socks confuse me. I’ve been buying the same white socks for 12 years. When too many pairs get holes in them, I buy replacements.

      I also have a few pairs of black dress socks for special occasions.

      And a few pairs of pokemon socks, which unfortunately are very uncomfortable.

      • Purplehermann says:

        The same white socks are sold for 12 years? Hanes keeps changing its white sock design and it’s a bother, what brand kept its design for that long?

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      The entirely obvious solve to the sock problem is to only have one kind of sock. Matching, what matching? All my socks are the exact same plain black sock.

    • Lambert says:

      I have all sorts of different coloured socks and spend inordinate amounts of time matching them and I regret nothing.
      But I rarely put socks on until I’m about to put shoes on. So right now, I only put socks on every few days.

    • OxytocinLove says:

      I have a subscription to one pair of socks and one pair of underwear in a matching “wacky” pattern each month. I never match the socks. All the socks are the same size and shape so wearing them mismatched isn’t uncomfortable, and they’re already wacky so it makes a little more aesthetic sense than just like, a brown sock and a white one.

      As far as I can tell, most of my socks last forever unless I throw them away. I have a few from when I was 12 years old. (Those weren’t part of the above strategy and I should probably just get rid of them).

  21. johan_larson says:

    Adolf Hitler has been portrayed many, many times on stage and screen. Who did it best?

    I would guess the performance to beat is by Bruno Ganz in the film Downfall.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t have an opinion about the best portrayal in terms of performance (though I agree Bruno Ganz did a really good job; Chaplin’s mock-Hitler in “The Great Dictator” was also especially memorable), but in terms of casting for physical resemblance I haven’t seen any movie where I thought they really nailed it.

      Aside from casting directors (understandably) emphasizing performance over physical resemblance, to the extent the physical resemblance component gets messed up it might be because there’s so much focus on the mustache. If I were casting Hitler I’d start with a picture of him that’s been edited to remove the mustache and then try and find a match based on that, then have the actor grow or wear a mustache.

      Which actor looks the most like the man on the left?

    • Bobobob says:

      Dick Shawn in The Producers.

    • Enkidum says:

      A. Hitler in Triumph of the Will? He had the dubious advantage, of course, of looking uncannily like Hitler.

      Uh… sorry about that.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Never seen Downfall (though given quarantine film consumption, it’s only a matter of days), but my personal favorite is Oliver Masucci in Look Who’s Back.

      This is also a general recommendation for that film, available on Netflix.

  22. WashedOut says:

    I recently re-watched Midsommar and am in the process of writing a fairly detailed review/analysis of the film. I have not read or heard any other commentary on it, so i’m not sure how unique or fresh my comments are going to be, but i’ve provided a version below. I still have some unanswered questions about the film, which i’m hoping will resolve themselves in the process of writing this. Appreciate your c&c.

    ——Everything below this line contains spoilers for Midsommar——

    Protagonist backstory and their significance
    Dani – depression, anxiety and trauma. Feels unaccepted by her social circle, orbiting her disinterested boyfriend Christian. Witness to her family suicide. Numb and hopeless from trauma, needs a change of scenery and opts to go to Scandinavia with her boyfriend and pals as an alternative to being alone and sad.
    Keywords: suffering, openness, potential, nothing left to lose

    Christian – reluctant, disinterested boyfriend to Dani. Has his group of immature college-friends who encourage him to leave Dani, but he hasn’t been able to take the decisive action to end it, and before he can make another attempt, Dani’s parents die and he is left as the unwilling shoulder to cry on. Wants to go to Scandinavia with his pals, and uses the pretense of a thesis research project as the PR story to Dani, even though the sincerity of his pals w.r.t. this purpose is dubious (just want to get laid and travel).
    Keywords: passivity, indecision, struggling to maintain dual-narratives, tension between desires and capabilities.

    Pelle – Extremely warm and open, friendly acquaintance from Sweden. Particularly warm towards Dani, compared to the other guys. His warmth doesn’t arouse suspicion partly because it is such a welcome contrast to the others and partly because we assume it’s a cultural thing.

    Arriving in Sweden
    Immediately upon arrival in an open field near to their accommodation village, they are offered magic mushrooms by their host, Pelle. This comes across as odd and marks the beginning of a series of events that propel the group through a series of experiences more or less against their will. Here Christian is reluctant to partake on behalf of Dani (given the freshness of her trauma), but nonetheless they both take a trip with the rest of the group.

    Dani experiences the classic mushroom “becoming part of nature” hallucinations, and the film uses the trip to create a temporal break/void in continuity, and begin instilling confusion and uncertainty. The taking of mushrooms becomes a constant thread through the whole film, and are seemingly a fairly integral part of the Midsommar festival portrayed in the plot. As a film device the repeated use of hallucinogens robs the audience of the ability to accurately discern how the protagonists are viewing and interpreting the things that are going on around them. Given how weird the goings-on get, this becomes a pretty noticeable encumbrance from the audience’s point of view.

    The scene where the group walks by a large illustrated banner (from it’s end to it’s beginning) essentially illustrates everything that will happen over the next several days, and helps to promote one of the main concepts the film is trying to invoke: inevitability. Furthermore this scene develops the theme of the characters being passive observers being carried through a course of events outside their control. It is the comparison of each of the main protagonists’ response to this course of events that creates one of the main analytical opportunities for the film.

    Ritual Suicide of Village Elders
    This is the first moment of ‘real’ upheaval (as opposed to merely drug-induced) in the minds of the visitors. As far as the locals are concerned the suicide is in total harmony with nature and culture, a physical manifestation of the renewal of human spirit and community. To the visitors this is unbearable, and drives one of them to “leave”. The first thing the audience is being asked to examine here is the analogy to Dani’s situation – the simultaneous death of both parents. The villagers and Dani now have something in common, except that in the Villagers’ case the death was voluntary, celebratory (although it didn’t go exactly according to plan), and part of a plan to allow the younger generation room to flourish. The fact that Dani is presented with a second rendition of the parent-death spectacle but in a controlled and deliberate setting acts as a kind of exposure therapy where the experience is reframed and recontextualized for her, and one in which she is allowed to be a passive observer of. Whilst all the visitors are clearly emotionally harmed by the event, Dani included, she does not appear to wither or weaken under the influence of them to anywhere near the extent the others do.

    The position of the Protagonists with respect to the village community
    A distinct inside/outside parallel story arc of the two main characters emerges after the ritual suicide. Dani is fully accepted by and integrated into the community, by being given productive jobs to share with the rest of the women and being asked to participate actively and collaboratively in the festivities. The villagers’ acceptance of Dani appears both radical and unconditional, in contrast to the position she occupied in her boyfriend’s social circle where her acceptance was conditional on her not being emotionally fragile or socially burdensome. Christian begins treating the visit as a research opportunity, squabbling with his friend about sharing of findings, standing on the outside looking in at the events and attempting to position himself as an uninvolved, passive observer. The villagers’ plan for Christian is to have him be seduced by and sexually paired with a young virgin to ensure the health of the community gene pool against inbreeding. It’s as if they have measured the strength and integrity of his spirit, has been found wanting, and so have opted to use him for the most limited and base purpose they require.

    Festive Dance to Select May Queen
    The community’s acceptance of Dani escalates into an elevation into candidacy for May Queen, decided by ‘last dancer standing’ and, of course, they’re all tripping on mushroom tea. The ever-present feeling of inevitability tells us that she will win the dancing competition, despite not knowing what she’s doing and being totally off her head. The message of this scene lies in the further divergence of the main character arcs. Dani is upstanding, dancing, integrating, succeeding, being open. Christian is sitting on the ground slouched over in the audience, alone but surrounded by others, the only one not wearing ceremonial garb, staring into space in confusion. His initial refusal to accept more mushrooms is fairly quickly overcome despite being told that it will ‘lower your defenses’, signalling his descent into resignation and apathy, and heralding the start of his fated seduction by the young virgin. Meanwhile the singing and dancing continues, and Dani discovers during the competition that she can speak Swedish in her physically-exhausted-but-mentally-envigorated state. The other women joke that Dani is ‘one of them now’, before falling over each other and leaving Dani standing to claim the title of May Queen.

    This parting remark about being one of them is a big deal, and proves to have very big consequences later on. The dance scene is one of three moments in the film where a key plot device is uncovered: the use of group vocalising and group body movement to achieve a specific purpose. In this instance the purpose is to embolden and bond the women, but we will see it being used again for much more interesting reasons.

    Mating Ritual
    Christian’s time has finally come arrived to fulfill the duty he has been assigned, and he leaves the May Queen celebration to do so. With the help of yet more inebriating substances doled out by a male elder, he is admitted into the room where the girl awaits, surrounded by a semicircular wall of older women who will oversee the process. Christian does the best he can given his mental state, but what the women do is more important. They begin chanting and moving their bodies in animalistic, rhythmic fashion, slowly escalating in accordance with the event taking place on the floor below them. One of them reaches down to hold the young woman’s hand, and the older women begin making the sounds you’d expect the sex-haver to be making, except louder and more exaggerated, and with bigtime hip-movements to boot. What we have here is a transference of the responsibility of the virgin to experience the emotional responses expected of her, from the virgin to the older women, and this I believe is one of the core ideas of the film. As if to say: “We know that what’s going on is very real and emotionally demanding, so since you are part of our community, we will unite and facilitate the transfer of emotional load from You The Individual Focal Point to Us The Unified Group, across which the load can be distributed.”

    Despite being told by her new friends that the commotion emanating from the mating-shed is “not for us”, Dani is drawn to investigate, and reacts to the events through the keyhole with expected horror and disgust, before being swiftly taken into the care of the other women.

    Judgement Time
    One of the jobs of May Queen turns out to be deciding on the composition of the list of people who need to die in a fire in order to complete the natural cycle of death and renewal. Several of the villagers have volunteered to give their lives, and other villagers have created scarecrows to stand-in for human sacrifices. All that’s left to do is for Dani to pick the last person to die, a choice between an anonymous villager who looks totally at peace with the situation; and Christian, who has been selected by the community, and who is rendered paralysed and speechless from being forced to inhale drugs after discovering the mutilated body of one of the visitors that decided to “leave”. Here Christian has reached his ultimate form of passivity: unmoving, unspeaking, totally inexpressive, a human rock. He has exhausted the only use the community could find for him – a sperm donor to fend-off genetic mutations from incest. Dani looks at him like a Queen looks at a peasant farmer on his knees in the dirt – equal parts pity, shame, compassion, indifference.

    The next time we see Christian he is trapped inside the hollowed-out body of a bear and being loaded into a very flammable-looking barn, along with the others, who at least are given a final dose of a relaxing drug. If Dani is the May Queen, Christian is King in the sense of scapegoat-in-waiting and his wait is over. He is both extreme insider, extreme outsider. At once privy to all of a very small, mysterious community’s inner workings and a part of this community’s future genetic makeup; and at the same time exiled from it, rejected, measured and found wanting. The community (including Dani) has imbued in Christianbear all that it seeks to shed and sees as beastly and profane. Thus by being burned alive, Christianbear achieves the ultimate purpose set for him, in the absence of any other countervailing purpose.

    Final, Metaphysical Peak
    As the Queen watches in horror from a distance as the flames consume the building, she explodes into gut-wrenching mourning and sorrow. From within her overabundant floral gown her despair is physical and impossible for the gathered spectators to ignore. Then the interesting thing happens: The villagers, who up until now have been watching the carnage with total peace and equanimity, observe and listen to the Queen’s outpourings of grief and then begin to act it out themselves. They start by weeping, then crying, then descend into throes of total physical mourning – all as a kind of performance. Dani’s sorrow is reflexive, instinctive, natural, uncontrollable, genuine; their sorrow is exaggerated, dramatic, sympathetic, controllable. As the villagers’ sorrow-act reaches it’s ultimate, Dani’s emotional state begins to transform. Her posture slowly corrects, her wailing recedes to weeping, her face is becalmed by the sound and sight of the gathered masses echoing her inner experience. Against the backdrop of the heaving emotional turmoil expressed by her new community, she turns to look at the burning remains again, and this time a gentle smile appears on her face. Here we have to immediately examine the tempting assumption that she is smiling out of some sense of vengeance or justice for his infidelity. No – through their performance the community have absolved her of the expectation that her grief will take a toll too high to bear alone, and transferred the obligation of emotional suffering from her to them, thereby allowing her to be at peace with the outcomes of a process that operates at a higher level than her individual personhood.

    Other comments
    1. It’s hard to ignore the juxtaposition of Christian (the man) and the explicitly Pagan community he finds himself in. If the central idea of Christianity is sacrifice and the acceptance of suffering, then Christian himself has his namesake belief-system forcibly reified at the cost of his own life, at the hands of it’s opposite. Put another way, the film is a metaphor for Paganism taking it’s values (cycles of nature) to a natural conclusion, and devouring Christianity in the process – but only as a matter of course, and without any dogmatic agenda. The calm indifference of the villagers displayed throughout the film reflects this manner of metaphorical devouring.

    2. Open question as to why the inbred mongoloid sleeps above the room of the mating ritual, or at least why he was there at the time.

    3. Open question of what Pelle’s intentions were from the outset, how much he knew was going to happen, i.e. how complicit is he in the murders of half a dozen people. I think the film is very comfortable with this not being examined let alone resolved, and I don’t think it changes the main insights of the film.

    • a real dog says:

      Man, that was such a masterpiece of a movie.

      I wouldn’t pursue the Christian (as in religion, not the given name) angle too far. The “moderns” in this movie represent the consumer, individualistic culture, which has absolutely no way to relate to the deeply collectivist, tribal mentality of the pagans. Compare the recent SSC favorite topic of the Amish. If anything, I’d say the contrast is between a complete spiritual atrophy of modern life and its helplessness toward personal tragedy and mental illness, vs. the all-devouring homicidal collective that is nevertheless full of love and meaning.

      I also don’t think the moderns were invited there explicitly to murder them. They had the option to be assimilated or even go free, but they wasted it by repeatedly breaking the pagan taboos and refusing to engage with the culture for any other reason than detached scientific study. I think Pelle might have been expecting this outcome, but given that his friends were sort of assholes maybe he decided to endanger the ones he didn’t like, convert the ones that can be redeemed, and also remove Christian as an obstacle to Dani.

      • JPNunez says:

        The other couple is also quickly murdered when they try to leave after the attestupa. I don’t remember them breaking too many taboos? May be forgetting some detail.

        • a real dog says:

          Yeah, I don’t recall the chronology very well, it’s been a while since I watched the movie.

          Maybe they’ve decided that it’s murder time and they wouldn’t want to leave witnesses, so they could either convert or die. Since they weren’t too engaged in the culture they immediately bailed out and got killed.

          To be honest the murders were the worst feature of the movie, it felt a bit heavy handed and out of character for the villagers – they seemed pretty big on hospitality, I’d just expect them to be absolutely vicious when defending whatever they think of as sacred. Killing the guy who pissed on their ancestor tree was one thing, same with the book, but then the violence got a bit indiscriminate. Perhaps they don’t really view outsiders as people, or they are nice at first to let them prove whether they are worthy of further respect or just animals to be slaughtered?

    • Beans says:

      Watched this last week. Succeeded in creeping me out a bit, for which I give it points. Apparently there’s a director’s cut that contains more gruesome material, but I think I’m satisfied enough with the original to avoid that.

      I think my favorite part was the suicide ritual and the buildup to it. Before that point, I didn’t really know what to expect, and that part did a good job of gradually escalating the intensity and mystery. After seeing the old folks slam into the rocks, I was pretty sure we had now stepped into horror/suspense territory and indeed, we had, because the movie took a path that is absolutely predictable for the genre: the cast makes a series of mistakes and is whisked away to be dismembered one by one. But there’s enough stuff going on that this predictable aspect of the plot was not annoying.

      Well-informed sources tell me that the visual effects chosen to simulate magic mushrooms are in many cases not super accurate, but serviceable for the movie’s purposes. (Who knows what exact mushroom they’re eating, anyway.) The way that the community mirrors the strong emotions/sensations that group members are experiencing was, I thought, an interesting idea for a convention that a society that is frequently on psychedelic mushrooms would develop: psychedelics apparently can have a de-individualizing and pro-empathy effect, and their behavior definitely appears in line with that, as far as their in-group goes (the out-group is obviously excluded and subject to random dismemberment, of course).

      Other comments:

      -After the first disappearance, suddenly they were making meat pies. In the moment I had a strong feeling that the disappeared guy was that meat, but did I jump to conclusions? In retrospect, probably.

      -Was the sacrificial maiming of nearly all the visitors actually inevitable, or would some of them have been allowed to survive if they hadn’t committed certain errors? (Sneakily taking pictures of the holy text, peeing on the ancestral tree…) The speech right before the final sacrifice overtly stated, I thought, that Pelle and his brother Ingmar did a great job of bringing all these outsiders in to be offered as sacrifices. Maybe if the outsiders were well behaved the village folk would have made up excuses to kill them. It seems fairly clear to me that this community’s mushroom-fueled collectivism does not extend to outsiders. (Dani was only an exception because Pelle arranged for her to be assimilated, since he related to her traumas.)

      It’s hard to ignore the juxtaposition of Christian (the man) and the explicitly Pagan community he finds himself in.

      I didn’t take away anything like that. I took the name “Christian” to just be a name, since his character has otherwise no clues that suggest he symbolizes Christianity. He is not only passive, but passive-aggressive, resentful, and selfish on top of all of it. Not much of a Christ or Christian figure in the idealized sense.

      No – through their performance the community have absolved her of the expectation that her grief will take a toll too high to bear alone, and transferred the obligation of emotional suffering from her to them, thereby allowing her to be at peace with the outcomes of a process that operates at a higher level than her individual personhood.

      I didn’t fully understand her reaction. I perceived it as being a vengeful killing caused by a distraught and established-to-be-mentally-unstable woman on drugs. But if what you say is on the right track, I would say to Dani: Bullshit! You directly chose to have him burnt. You are responsible. Your boyfriend was shit, but he didn’t try to kill you, and you don’t deserve to feel good.

      • a real dog says:

        FWIW, my well-informed sources tell me that the psychedelic effects were shown surprisingly well, to the extent that it’s possible in cinema. The subtle “breathing” of things and textures was really well made.

        • Beans says:

          I report via hearsay: In certain scenes, the “breathing” and writhing of plants looked great, as well as some distortion of facial expressions. Other scenes looked much more obviously like a computer messing with the image and weren’t convincing, but it was definitely good enough for the purposes of the movie.

      • caryatis says:

        We should probably note that not only did Christian cheat on Dani (hard to blame him too much for that considering he was on drugs and borderline coerced), he pooh-poohed her concerns about her sister at the beginning of the movie. If he had taken her more seriously, her parents and sister might have survived.

        I think this whole movie is about Dani’s drive to have people around her who take her emotions seriously.

    • MPG says:

      Sounds like yet another reflex of The Golden Bough. Will Frazer ever die, I wonder, or is he just modern mythology now?

  23. Lillian says:

    I realise that soliciting medical advice from the internet is not a clever thing to do, but as we’re about to establish, I haven’t been very clever about dealing with this thus far. So, I would like opinions on this cough I’ve been having which is very probably not COVID-19.

    One week into January I returned home from a New Year’s trip, and some days later I came down with a cold. No surprise there, catching colds when travelling is a thing that happens. It was fairly mild, I got through the head headache, sore throat, and sniffles in a few days, all without much trouble. The cough would be next, except it didn’t come. I thought the cold was over without a cough, but then some days after the sniffles vanished there it was. Just a light cough though, about what I expected given everything else.

    Except the cough didn’t go away. It took me a while to really notice, coughs are always the longest part of a cold for me, often persisting as long as or longer than all the other symptoms combined. This time though I kept coughing all through the rest of January and through the first week of February, which is definitely longer than I’ve had before. I was starting to feel tightness in the middle of my chest and feeling concerned, I went to the urgent care. They checked my breathing, it was fine, my lungs sounded unobstructed, oxygen levels were good. I was diagnosed with bronchitis and sent home with a prescription for cough suppressants. Doctor said it’s not uncommon for bronchitis to take four to six weeks to clear up, and that I should be fine, but to not hesitate to return if it got worse.

    Fast forward to thirty days later, and it wasn’t worse, but it’s also not really better either. The tightness in the chest that concerned me did go away a bit, but I’m still coughing. Had a cough for nearing two months, I went to the urgent care again. Same doctor, who was rather concerned to find me still with the same symptoms. He checked my vitals again, still read healthy, got me a chest x-ray, lungs looked fine, nothing at all visibly wrong with them. He asked me if I had been sleeping and eating well, I said yes without thinking about it. I was sent home with a refill of the cough suppressants and a recommendation I see a pulmonologist. I never saw the pulmonologist, I never even wrote to my primary care asking for a referral. I don’t know why. I wanted to, I knew I had a small window of opportunity before the corona plague really started hitting, and I was and remain concerned that having a comorbid pulmonary condition will land me in the ventilator if I get COVID. Nonetheless I just didn’t, and by now it doesn’t seem prudent.

    There is one piece of information the doctor didn’t get, because I wasn’t being reflective enough when prompted. I actually did seem to be getting better for the first couple of weeks after the first doctor’s visit. Then my sleep cycle randomly fucked itself and I didn’t sleep very much for a week, resulting in the cough returning to its now usual level of severity. It’s likely also relevant that I haven’t been eating well. Not for lack of food, I have more than I know what to do with, I’m just lacking the wherewithal to cook it. Which is bad because my fat reserves are already near nonexistant, and my chest has gone from having a visible ribcage outline to having visible ribs. Which means I unintentionally lied to the doctor, though I do not think it would have altered his recommendation beyond adding an exhortation to eat and sleep more.

    So yeah, I have had a cough for over three months. It was actually getting better again, I didn’t cough at all for the last week, I think? I can still feel it in my chest, but it’s not bad enough I need to cough. I also used to cough every time I talked, but it’s not been a problem for the last month I think. However, I didn’t sleep last night and now I’m coughing a bit once more. It seems that I am just barely fighting off the infection, so any additional strain on my body is immediately felt. Anybody have any thoughts about this beyond the obvious that being a starving insomniac isn’t great for my immune system?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Eat food.

      My wife had a very bad cough earlier this year that lasted a weirdly long time. Not as long as yours has, but a month or a bit longer. I think it was not covid. It eventually just went away, we treated it with lots of over the counter drugs which we weren’t sure really did anything.

    • JohnNV says:

      I had a very similar set of symptoms last spring, short cold, long cough that wouldn’t go away, etc. It was bad enough that I was coughing up specks of blood, but otherwise felt OK, and could even exercise. Turns out it was a mild form of pneumonia and a few days on antibiotics cleared it up instantly.

    • Enkidum says:

      Isn’t a big question whether it’s a wet or dry cough? If bronchitis-related, presumably you’re phlegmy and coughing stuff up still, which is (I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR) I believe counter-indicative of COVID?

      • acymetric says:

        I thought bronchitis was usually a dry cough and pneumonia was a wet cough. My understanding of bronchitis is that it is more irritation/inflammation than fluid buildup. (I AM ALSO NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR OR EVEN ANY OTHER KIND OF DOCTOR).

        • Lillian says:

          That was my impression as well, bronchitis is a dry cough an pneumonia is a wet cough. I have for the record a dry cough and a bronchitis diagnosis, which was explained as irritation of the bronchi, and which in turn corresponds with the feeling I have in the centre of my chest. I additionally have chest x-rays confirming a lack of buildup in the lungs.

        • Enkidum says:

          Right then, it appears I am definitely not a medical doctor!

    • J Mann says:

      I sometimes get in a circle where my coughing is irritating my lungs. It could be post hoc prompter hoc, but based on my doctor’s advice once, what seems to help is not coughing – for a few days, I drink a lot of tea with honey, use cough drops, try to get to sleep earlier, and that often helps the problem.

      • Lillian says:

        I do try not to cough, mostly because I do not like coughing, but I will try to continue with that except more deliberately and see if that helps. Thank you.

    • Beans says:

      I actually did seem to be getting better for the first couple of weeks after the first doctor’s visit. Then my sleep cycle randomly fucked itself and I didn’t sleep very much for a week, resulting in the cough returning to its now usual level of severity.

      More than once in my life during busy/stressful times I’ve gotten persistent, dry coughs that didn’t let up until I managed to get a solid chunk of good rest. My non-medical intuition supports the recommendations to sleep and eat. I’d bet the majority of my toes that it would significantly help, even if you don’t fully get better from that alone.

      If I were you, my non-medical advice would be melatonin and easy to prepare calorie dense crap like ramen noodles. These have gotten me through bad times. This also seems like an excellent time to use marijuana, if in good mental health, and your circumstances allow it. I know nothing better to encourage eating a lot and getting a good rest.

      • Lillian says:

        Feels silly to not have thought of this, but ramen noodles may be just what I need to fill the need for something that requires little effort to prepare and also packs a considerable caloric punch. There’s this one product in particular that I like. It’s a bit pricey for ramen at $1, but much tastier and with more calories per meal on account of having better sauce packets and tiny chunks of real meat. If I bought a dozen or so that may improve my caloric intake for the next week or two, which may be enough to push me further towards recovery. Thank you for the suggestion.

        • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

          If you’re feeling really fancy, add an egg, peanut butter, and/or frozen veggies. Mmmm fancy ramen.

        • Lambert says:

          Are other microwave meals available where you are?
          Like lasagna or curry?

          If anything, they’re probably easier to prepare than instant ramen. At minimum effort, you can eat them straight out of the container they came in.

          • Lillian says:

            The $1 ramen I mentioned also has that exact advantage. They are meant to be microwaved in the container they come in and can be eaten in the same. Which is part of the reason why I’m going to buy that and not the 30 cent packages. There are plenty of other microwaveable foods available at my local supermarkets, I just don’t buy them because I’m poor, and they tend to run in the $2-6 per meal range. A notable exception being mini pot pies which are also $1. I try to budget by acquiring cheap foodstuffs like rice, beans, lentils, potatoes, but I suppose they’re not doing me much good if I’m not eating them.

          • Lambert says:

            Instant ramen is pretty limited, in terms of nutrition.
            Your best bet is probably to make a week’s worth of stew or something when you’ve got the energy then freeze single portions of it.

            Also maybe get a blood test to check you’re not anæmic or anything.

          • AG says:

            Punching up instant ramen is super easy. Buy the 30 cent stuff and throw some egg, meatballs, and fresh or frozen veggies in when you cook or microwave the water.
            The $1 ramen containers are often explicitly designed to accommodate additional ingredients like that.

            As for other microwave food, I suggest going to the local dollar store. They sometimes get stuff that would be more than $2 elsewhere on sale.

        • ReaperReader says:

          There’s also canned baked beans and other canned meals: remove contents, heat and eat (the contents that is, unless you really want some extra iron in your diet).

          Or canned tuna in sauce, which typically doesn’t need heating.

          Or frozen vegetables are pretty cheap, heat in the microwave.

      • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

        Edibles specifically, if that wasn’t obvious. No reason to irritate the lungs further.

        If possible, combine this with 3 days during which you constantly hydrate, use cough drops to suppress the cough, eat as much as you feel like, and sleep as much as you can. Call in sick and do low-effort activities that don’t keep you wide awake (so limit screen time). Pick out a few books to read, paint, write, do whatever else you enjoy that keeps your blood pressure low.

        This is my routine for whenever I start feeling sick. I haven’t been sick for more than 4 days in over a decade.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Not a medical doctor, but I’ve had annoying persistent coughs in the past which were caused by gastroesophageal reflux, anti-acid and proton pump inhibitor medications resolved it every time. You might want to give it a try, stomach issues might also explain your lack of appetite.

      If this doesn’t work, they I’m afraid you’re getting into serious disease territory.

    • Jon S says:

      The eating and sleeping comments seem helpful regardless of the cough. Make sure to get enough protein. I’ve been having lingering coughs (3+ weeks) after colds and was recently diagnosed with (exercise-induced) asthma. Regular inhaler use for about a week cleared up the cough, and now I use it occasionally when intense exercise starts making me feel like coughing (or before the exercise if I anticipate it).

    • keaswaran says:

      The last bit seems like it needs more information – “I didn’t cough at all for the last week, I think? I can still feel it in my chest, but it’s not bad enough I need to cough.” A fuller description of that feeling sounds like a way to understand more deeply what is going on.

      • Lillian says:

        It’s a need to cough sort of feeling, right in the centre of my chest under the lower part of the sternum, consistent with irritated primary bronchi. Coughing does not actually make it better because there’s nothing there to cough up. It’s sort of been always there, less so for a while so I wasn’t coughing, but more intense these last couple of days that the cough returned.

    • sharper13 says:

      Get a pulse oximeter (or borrow one) and periodically check your oxygen levels. If you’re dipping below 95% on a regular basis, start worrying a bit and figure you have some sort of lung condition. If you get below 90%, you need to go to an ER or InstaCare of some sort and get oxygen.

      Hopefully, that can add some data to your “how bad is this?” decision-making.

    • I don’t have much to add to what others have already said, but one angle might be worth pursuing, additionally: Check for mould. Also check if you have any allergies (possibly new ones) that could be causing your lungs increased irritation. (I once developed a chronic bronchitis due to mild but varied pollen allergies (i.e. almost an all-year very mild and almost imperceptible allergic reaction) I hadn’t even known I had – had lived in coastal areas all my life, moved to a land-locked area, got the inexplicable chronic bronchitis, until my doctor thought to check me for allergies.)

  24. Enkidum says:

    Anybody else amazed at how good The Last Dance Netlfix documentary series about the Chicago Bulls dynasty is? I couldn’t have imagined being this engrossed by hour 6 of 10 of any sports documentary series, but here we are.

    I was never a huge basketball fan (I’ve definitely watched <20 games in total in my life) but I played a little and was in high school/undergrad at the time, so there's definitely a huge nostalgia factor for me. But also it's just an extraordinarily well-crafted documentary, and the level of detail is something I didn't expect at all.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      I haven’t watched it but will take this as a recommendation to do so – I used to play a lot and watch a fair bit (although I didn’t start until about 2007).

  25. Reasoner says:

    Thanks for being willing to wield the banhammer, Scott. I’ve noticed that the Twitterification of discourse appears to be metastasizing some and I’m glad you’re trying to stop it from taking root here. I don’t have much opinion on most of the people you mentioned except Nyb, for which I’m in agreement. Also if someone has made quality contributions in the past, and this is their first ban, it seems reasonable to make it a 1 month warning sort of ban.

    Please let me know if I’m one of the people you secretly wish to ban so I can shape up.

    • Ketil says:

      Please let me know if I’m one of the people you secretly wish to ban so I can shape up.

      I wonder if Scott hinting that there are still people among us on the brink of being banned is an attempt to scare the commentariat straight? If so, I don’t think it is a good idea – lots of people are probably wondering if they are on the list now, and while it is a good thing to make people stop and think, the result is most likely that the already cautious and polite will curb their behavior, while the overconfident loudmouths will keep on as before, thinking it’s surely not them that’s the problem.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t think so, at the Philly meetup in my brief discussion with Scott it seemed apparent that a handful of posters basically absorbed his attention and his statement was something to the effect of ‘your username doesn’t register to me, that basically means you are no where near getting banned’. I don’t think he wants to control things in a subtle way.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          It also means frequent commenters are more at risk, even if their good outweighs the bad. Like, if I make 2X the number of bad comments as someone else, but 10X the number of good comments, maybe that’s worth it?

          The counterpoint is that Scott’s attention is extremely limited. Keeping the number of bad comments down, even at the cost of losing a significant number of good comments, may be worth it, because we don’t want to hit a tipping point where Scott shuts the place/comments down (or we get into a toxic dunking cycle that ultimately leads to that). And you can’t tell exactly how close you are to the tipping point.

          • Rana Dexsin says:

            I’d think the ratio would also depend on the ripple effects and amount of stickiness of a bad comment versus a good one, how replaceable the good ones are, etc. Intuitively I’d want to bump the “amount of good comments” needed up by a factor of 2–10× off the bat, depending on just how actively good counts as “good”.

      • Matt M says:

        the result is most likely that the already cautious and polite will curb their behavior, while the overconfident loudmouths will keep on as before, thinking it’s surely not them that’s the problem.

        Romancing the Romanceless: online comments edition

      • OrangeJuiceCabal says:

        I would think the majority of SSC commenters who are polite don’t fear being banned because most of our comments are harmless, and even when controversial and volatile topics emerge people are generally courteous. It should be pretty easy to see who and who isn’t being inflammatory so I doubt there will be widespread negative consequences of him announcing this in the future.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        It’s made me much more hesitant to comment. Realistically, I know that I’m probably at a low risk because I avoid CW topics and I’m not well known enough for anyone to care.

        But the anxiety remains. I have an awful habit of accidentally annoying/offending people because I was never properly trained in the art of human communication.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          … and same for me, but worse because Scott explicitly said I’m on thin ice for some reason.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          For whatever it’s worth, I can’t remember any time your comments have struck me as objectionable, and yours is one of the names I notice; you often have interesting things to say.

          But I may not be very normal myself.

    • zzzzort says:

      Do we know what the practical implications of being banned are? The username is banned from signing in (or being mentioned), but the individual can still read and comment under a different name. Do people do that, or is being asked to leave keep them away? Or does it in practice mean not being obvious about their identity, which means forgoing whatever reputation they had and refraining from loudly arguing for the things they are known to loudly argue for?

      • Lambert says:

        Flagrant sockpuppeting could probably be detected and banned via ip blacklists, unless they use TOR or something.

        The only person who caused problems by making more accounts had such an idiolect that detecting his posts became somewhat of a game (‘Go away John’).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The only person who caused problems by making more accounts had such an idiolect that detecting his posts became somewhat of a game (‘Go away John’).

          He always reminded me to do more research on the Boeotians (I run RPGs set in ancient Greece).

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          To not get caught, they would have to come back with an entirely new personality and style.

          And someone already linked this elsewhere, but: https://xkcd.com/810/

          (I think some of the 6-month bans were overly harsh, but the general rule applies.)

      • matkoniecz says:

        but the individual can (…) comment under a different name

        But is supposed to not do this.

  26. Etoile says:

    Question on non-‘COVID19 respiratory illness: is anyone getting flu, RSV, colds, random 24-hr bugs at all? Or has lockdown caused those to virtually die out — nobody’s in daycare! — while COVID is the only thing that spreads, and that like wildfire?

    • noyann says:

      One-sided sniffles two times, despite self isolation.

      • keaswaran says:

        I’ve been tracking my respiratory symptoms much more carefully than usual (for obvious reasons) and I’ve noticed several things that seem to cause sniffles – exercise in the cold, sometimes my allergies, etc. Is it possible that some of it is that?

        • noyann says:

          There are some differences by which I tell them apart.
          Hay fever running nose often also comes with itchy eyes, the throat is sore in a larger area and on both sides.
          Breathing in cold weather makes no itching or soreness, but much runny mucus in the nose (some of it condensed breath probably), and no throat symptoms.
          Presumed infections start with small sore spots, often on at first (or in mild cases) one side of the larynx only, later the nose on the same side starts running, and there is mucus from the maxillary sinus. If it goes bad, the soreness spreads and descends and I get a fever.
          FWLIW, I had the latter, but not descending, no fever, no other covid symptoms.

    • j1000000 says:

      Well, in Massachusetts there are about 10,000 tests a day, and about 8,000 of those come back negative for coronavirus. So presumably a lot of those people do have the flu/colds/random bugs.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, my understanding is that in most jurisdictions of the US, you can still only get tested if you are exhibiting COVID-like symptoms. And about 90% of the tests come back negative for COVID.

        So all of those people must have something that looks like COVID, but isn’t.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Depends on the false negative rate. Friend of a friend of my cousin evidence but our friend took their 4 year old to get tested and it came back negative, but then a nurse friend of theirs said that to be accurate you needed the swab to be in the nose for near 30 seconds and that makes the test worthless for small children. I have seen a few reports of false negatives as high as 30%.

    • tgb says:

      Actually the same smart thermometer data that was originally used suggested to be used to track COVID-19 outbreaks now shows clearly how much lockdown has reduced the other fevers. Check out the chart below the map here: https://healthweather.us/ everything plummeted below baseline starting right around when lockdowns went into effect.

      But I wonder if there’s some other confounders going on like people check their temperature more often due to Covid so getting more negatives just by increased use? Not sure.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’ve had what I take to be seasonal allergies, exacerbated by stress, the whole time I’ve been sheltering in place. Every morning like clockwork I wake up with a somewhat stuffed head and spend two hours intermittently coughing etc. to clear it. No fever, but I’m also sleeping more than usual – however, I put that down to stress/anxiety because of the covid-19 situation.

      • albatross11 says:

        My wife and I both seemed to have some mild cold for a few days–I can’t imagine how we would have caught it from anyone else (we’ve been pretty careful), so I’m wondering if this is either a latent cold that came back, something we caught from the dog, or something we caught from some long-lasting bug sitting in the dust somewhere in the house. It might also have been allergies, but it seemed pretty cold-like.

    • AG says:

      My body decided to go full allergy season at the end of my hike this Sunday. Wake up with a runny nose that goes for a few hours until I sufficiently devote my attention elsewhere, comes back whenever I remember it. Very annoying, I get drippings into my facemask.

  27. GearRatio says:

    For people who have consistently frequented the SSC subreddit for a while: How have things changed(or stayed the same) since the motte split off and the rules of engagement changed? My confirmation bias is too strong for me to accurately gauge the changes by just scanning through it, and since I was banned there a million years ago I haven’t been keeping close track. Is it mostly the same? Better/Worse? Busier/Ghost-townier?

    • Jliw says:

      More boring, to me. I rarely see anything that interests me enough to debate or even comment at all.

      • AG says:

        Did you only comment on CW topics? Are the remaining topics just too inarguable?

        • Jliw says:

          Yes to both, I think — not that other topics can’t be interesting, but people don’t tend to be* as egregiously wrong on them; someone commenting on, I dunno, WWI-era biplanes or something is likely to know what they’re talking about or they wouldn’t comment, and if they are wrong it’s much more straightforward to correct them (and if you don’t, either someone else will, because it’s easy to verify the fact of the matter, and that’s the end of it; or else it’s just too inconsequential for anyone to even bother, and that’s the end of it).

          (*or “appear to me to be”, of course)

          Too, emotions don’t run as high, on other topics, so reading through debates on them isn’t as fun — they’re both shorter and more staid.

          I don’t know how true this is, but after a little thought, it seems that another reason is that other topics that interest me are more profitably engaged by other means — e.g., if I’m interested in WWI fighters, I’ll learn more by reading a book about them or going to a specialist forum/subreddit.

          The SSC sub was good for me because I could read high-quality, largely civil debates on controversial topics, which is not that common. Without this, it’s just a bunch of mild and mildly effective education on mildly interesting things; and it also seems to me that a lot of them are often either very common (“how are you dealing with the quarantine?”) or too niche (“distribution of graduate student stipends in the Bay Area”) — whereas CW stuff is an unusual mix of “not commonly discussed with rigor” and “widely relevant” at the same time.

          • ec429 says:

            I’m sure you could get heated emotional arguments about WWI fighters if you tried. Were sesquiplanes like the Nieuport 17 a brave and brilliant combination of the structural advantages of the biplane with the aerodynamic and pilot-view advantages of the monoplane, or a foolhardy attempt to have one’s cake and eat it that led to disastrous flutter accidents? (And would an inverted sesquiplane have been better or worse?) Was the Fokker D.VII really the best fighter of the War, justifying its special clause in the Armistice, or is that just the same kind of wehraboo wunderwaffe propaganda more commonly seen around WWII designs? Was the German “triplane fever” a rational response to the Sopwith Triplane, or an overreaction (and was the Fokker Dr.I inherently a deathtrap or just the victim of poor manufacturing quality)? And which was really better, the Camel or the S.E.5a?

            If you think any of those questions can be resolved by a simple factual verification, I have a bridge to sell you.

      • GearRatio says:

        This was sort of my impression browsing it and seeing comment counts – that most people aren’t commenting anymore, for whatever reason. I wonder how much of that is “a bunch of them were banished, so there’s less of them” and how much of it is “a bunch of topics were banned”.

  28. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    If anyone happens to be in or near Spokane, Washington, they have a relatively new air museum that I’ve reviewed.

    My long-running series on the Falklands War has finally reached the Argentine air attacks on Bluff Cove, possibly the greatest British disaster of the war.

    While container ships may be the most prominent part of merchant shipping, the most common ships by tonnage are bulk carriers for solid cargoes like ore, grain, and coal.

    Lastly, I’ve continued looking at the history of coastal defenses, focusing mostly on those in the US during the first 20 years or so of the nation’s history.

  29. Majuscule says:

    Someone built an AI solely to draw penises:

    Dick-RNN

    It’s unlikely that an AI threat will emerge from this particular example, but wouldn’t it be hilarious if it did?

    • Lord Nelson says:

      If it does, I’m sure we’ll find a way to rise to the occasion.

    • Rick Jones says:

      This made me smile. Indulge me in a personal memory. Over 40 years ago (’78?) a dear, now departed friend and I were playing around with color graphics on a computer, completely new at the time. I think he worked for Bill Etra. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Etra. And what did we create but a crude (I think the whole screen had 64 ‘pixels’) multicolored penis, complete with testes and ejaculate. Somewhere I think I still have a copy of penis.v1 and penis.v2. My friend, Michael Polatnik, who I miss every day, later went on to help design the graphics hardware in the Atari Amiga. Plus ca change.

  30. caryatis says:

    People who went to the last SSC virtual meetup, how did it go? Was it easy to use? Are you required to register in advance to participate?

    • oriscratch says:

      I think it went pretty well. I came late, but there were 3 groups of people having independent conversations (I think one was talking about parenting, another about physics and AI, and the third stood around listening to someone sing and play guitar). Hubs is very easy to use. I registered in advance, but I’m pretty sure that anyone who gets their hands on the link can join in – no one checks. It’s best to still register so that organizers know what to expect though.

      • Well... says:

        What are some of your technical specs as far as accessing Hubs goes (browser, OS, etc.)? I’m using Firefox on a Macbook and I can’t get Hubs to load. I’ve tried with and without my VPN running.

        • oriscratch says:

          Windows, Google Chrome, super cheap laptop

        • I use Firefox on an iMac and have no problem using Hubs.

        • Namron says:

          I was barely able to get Hubs to load initially. It was super laggy. I emailed the meetup organizer, and he advised me as follows, and it fixed my problem. If you can’t get it to load at all, this won’t help, but if you can barely get it to load it will help. Or if you can get it to load on another device, change the settings for your account, and then log in on your main device.

          “Try this link here:hub.link/Zd85BZs

          Then click the hamburger menu on the top-left.

          Then click Preferences. Try reducing these two settings:

          Max Resolution (width x height in pixels)

          Material quality (requires restart).”

  31. I’m the kind of weirdo who enjoys reading patch notes. What software has had the most entertaining bugs?

    Bonus question: will any release notes ever top Notepad++ 7.3.3?

    1. Fix CIA Hacking Notepad++ issue (https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/cms/page_26968090.html).

  32. Edward Scizorhands says:

    https://twitter.com/AmichaiStein1/status/1257401383474597889

    Israelis find antibody that cures coronavirus.

    I can’t read Hebrew and don’t know how authoritative these people are. They are the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israel Institute for Biological Research so not a bunch of randos.

    • Purplehermann says:

      I can read hebrew. Stein pretty much says it all.

      The nagdan (antibody or antidote, I’m not sure) has already been developed – now patenting and getting international companies to produce it are the next steps.

      I don’t know how seriously to take this yet

    • Evan Þ says:

      Is this the same as the recent monoclonal antibody paper?

      Either way, it’s great news!

    • mfm32 says:

      Derek Lowe has covered mAbs in general in a couple of posts (most recent). Assuming that’s that this is, I think we should interpret this as:
      1) Great news
      2) Not all that surprising
      3) An effective stopgap, not a cure

      To expand on point #3: These treatments are unlikely practical as widespread prophylaxis and seem quite expensive to produce, in part because their manufacturing process is inherently biological and therefore hard to scale. The world undoubtedly ought to take a Manhattan Project approach to production, so it’s hopefully less a question of whether it will happen but instead at what scale before something more sustainable and broadly applicable like a vaccine can come online. In the meantime, this sort of drug will probably work as a more effective treatment than we currently have and, in some specific situations, a prophylaxis.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Thanks. What I understand is that monoclonal antibodies likely confer temporary immunity, so we could give them to the most exposed people now.

        But what happens when someone who has been given mAbs gets a positive exposure to coronavirus? The best case is that (a) their native immune system fights it off, giving them permanent immunity (b) with them having no symptoms (c) and they cannot be a vector (aside from things like touched a shared surface).

        But are any of (a) (b) or (c) true?

        • mfm32 says:

          I’m not sure, except that if (a) happens then (c) is highly likely. And I would suspect that anyone who has symptoms and then recovers satisfies both (a) and (c). But I don’t know if the mAbs interrupt the immune response such that the immune system only develops antibodies to them and not the virus in its native state.

  33. Scoop says:

    So at least two non-reviewed studies have been released, and they have been widely reported as “proving” that the average person to die from C19 lost more than ten years of life.

    Unless I’m misreading it, the first doesn’t really even claim to do that. It takes age distributions of C19 victims and looks at UK mortality tables, along with info on the effects of comorbidity on life expectancy, to show 3 possible ways to estimate average life years and quality adjusted life years (QALYs) lost:
    1. Assuming C19 victims have average health for their age, it calculates they had an average of 11.04 life years left and 6.15 QALYs.
    2. Assuming C19 victims were somewhat below average health for their age, it calculates 7.96 years and 4.1 QALYs remaining.
    3. Assuming C19 victims were, on average, quite a bit less healthy than average for their age, it calculates 6.48 years and 2.97 QALYs remaining.

    The authors have no way to know which health assumption is correct because their model uses zero data on actual comorbidity. To my eye, the study’s assertions seem realistic, but just presenting three scenarios on patient health without finding out which scenario is accurate is less than helpful.

    All reporting I’ve seen on this study, however, says that it reached one definitive conclusion: the average life years lost is 11. None of the stories I’ve seen make any mention of the other two health scenarios or any mention of QALYs at all.

    The second study does try to factor in patient health, but it concludes, highly implausibly to me, that although actual C19 patients tend to suffer significant comorbidity, they are losing almost exactly as much life by dying from C19 as they would if they were the same age, but in average health.

    The age data in this study comes from all 6,801 deaths reported in Italy at the time they gathered data. If you just run standard life tables on that population, you predict that the average male C19 victim had 14.4 years left and the average woman had 12.2 years left.

    They then tried to adjust that using data on comorbidity in 710 Italian C19 victims and assuming that comorbidity figures for the total victim population were the same:

    “the proportion with each long-term condition (LTC) was as follows:- ischaemic heart disease 27.8%, atrial fibrillation 23.7%, heart failure 17.1%, stroke 11.3%, hypertension 73%, diabetes 31.3%, dementia 14.5%, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 16.7%, active cancer in the past 5 years 17.3%, chronic liver disease 4.1%, chronic renal failure 22.2%. The ISS report also presented the proportion of patients who died with each of the following multimorbidity counts: 0 (2.1%), 1 (21.3%), 2 (25.9%) and ≥3 (50.7%).”

    Then, they reported that factoring in this incidence of comorbidity — including the fact that more than half of all C19 victims had three or more of these long-term conditions — hardly affected the estimated years of life left at all: 13.1 years for men, 10.5 years for women.

    Either a random age-matched sampling of people has very nearly as much comorbidity as C19 victims — and thus the disease isn’t really more deadly to sicker people than healthy ones — or everything we know about excess comorbidity shortening life is wrong or the study is wrong.

    I obviously suspect the last. There are a dozen reasons I won’t mention, but here’s a quick one:

    “Briefly, all LTCs other than hypertension were associated with increased mortality (in a model including 10 other LTCs)”

    What? Hypertension is strongly associated with reduced life expectancy. Here’s one of the million studies to show that. So either a 73% incidence of uncontrolled hypertension is normal in Italian people with a similar age distribution of C19 victims (and it doesn’t appear to be) or something is very wrong with their model.

    All that said, I had definitely come to the conclusion that years lost to C19 was significantly lower before I read these studies (especially if you consider QALYs rather than raw data) so bias may be clouding my analysis. I will note that Steve Sailer was not critical of the study when he posted about a write-up (Economist, I think), but I think he has committed himself to the “C19 is a giant deal” view, and this study would help back that view up, so he is probably as inclined to place too much faith in it as I am to place too little faith in it.

    Sorry to be so long, but questions after all that:

    Anyone with experience conducting or analyzing such studies have any thoughts on the quality of the Scottish study? Am I way off base?

    Anyone have any links to other studies on average years lost or QALYs lost by C19 patients? I really think an accurate estimate here is key to formulating policy.

    If I am right, why are quality media outlets misreporting the first study and failing to see obvious problems with the second one? How did the authors of the second one not think, “Comorbidity does reduce life expectancy. Something must be wrong an analysis that finds otherwise.”?

  34. Bobobob says:

    Can anyone recommend a good book about the fall of the Soviet Union/Iron Curtain? Nothing too scholarly or dense.

    • Scoop says:

      Lenin’s Tomb is pretty good.

    • yodelyak says:

      Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a foodie book, and a memoir, and only incidentally (but vividly and authoritatively) about life in USSR, early post-Soviet Russia. That’s second-hand, I haven’t read it, but my partner loved it and read some sections out loud to me, and what I heard, made it sound smart and like it’ll leave you with some good true details helpful for relating to what it was like to be there.

    • Chebky says:

      Red Plenty by Francis Spufford is a great historical novel about life in Russia in the late fifties- early sixties when it seemed for a moment that communism is working.
      It’s very engaging (the audiobook is good too), reportedly well-researched, and chimes well with my family’s stories of Soviet life.

      Another thrilling and insightful read is my grandpa’s arrest reports, but they only come in the original Russian….

  35. Oleg S. says:

    COVID-19 patient recovery statistics for some reason is not reported in California. Any ideas why?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Because it’s essentially garbage. When my friend got a positive COVID-19 test, he was told to go back home and stay inside until $time after he felt healthy, and then he had no more contact with the medical establishment. So, how should he show up in the recovery statistics? If the answer is “well, he should be given another test,” how do you propose to do that given our scandalous shortage of tests?

      And then let’s consider my other friend who had something we’re pretty sure was COVID-19, but he never even got a test because, knowing we’re short of tests, he decided to just skip to the next step and stay inside.

      • albatross11 says:

        Or my friend who got very sick with something very closely fitting the descriptions of the symptoms of COVID-19, but never quite sick enough to go to the hospital, seems to mostly be recovered now (but still with occasional fever and coughs), and since she doesn’t seem to be a crisis she was never able to get a test. I’m sure she’s not in any statistics for COVID-19. The confirmed cases data is a lower bound, as best I can tell–in NYC it’s probably at least within shouting distance of being accurate, and in most other places it’s probably not.

      • Oleg S. says:

        I don’t follow the logic.

        By recovery I mean that person a) won’t develop symptoms of COVID and b) isn’t contagious. Obviously you have to know how many people have recovered to evaluate risks and make decision on, say, whether to stay home, put on a mask or open a busuness. In a 1 million-population city it is one thing when 100 000 are infected with COVID, and none have recovered, and quite another thing when 99 999 have recovered.

        So, I’m kinda frustrated that this very important metric is not reported in California.

        As for the first situation you described – basically, the question is if your friend is a) cured, and b) not contagious. He’ll need this information to know when he can interact with other people (unless he is planning to stay in quarantine forever). The answer “we could know if we had tests, but we don’t have them” is more or less ok (really though? still shortage of tests in May?), if you then tell that after $time has passed and he’s healthy – he becomes not dangerous to others. Why not report him as recovered after $time has passed then?

        As for your second case – that’s unrelated to my question, because my concern is (lack of) official statistics on recovery.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Yes, we still have a shortage of tests in May. Our governor has been expostulating for weeks about how that’s the main block on lifting our Stay at Home order. Though, this particular story happened back in early April.

          I suppose you could ask “please call us back after $time without symptoms, to update our records”; I wonder how much compliance you’d get with that?

          • Oleg S. says:

            I’d say “please call us back after $time so we could verify that you are recovered” would get a >50% compliance rate. But that’s not the point.

            The point is — how on Earth are we going to make decision about lifting Stay at Home order if no one has any clue about how many people have recovered from the disease?

          • Spiritkas says:

            At Oleg’s point on recovery stats. Can we simply estimate this based on the date of the tests rather than trying to locate or retest everyone? It seems to me we can safely assume that anyone tested will have 1 of 3 outcomes after 1 month. They will be recovered, they will be in hospital with a serious case and will likely be retested or released when recovered, or they will be dead. As the hospitalisation to infection rate is relatively low (low as an absolute value, I’m not comparing it to other diseases) in populations under 70, then we could get a pretty good idea about those who are tested and active vs tested and recovered. You can pick a different time period, but I’d say any diagnoses older than 4-6 weeks who are not dead or in hospital a can be counted as recovered without subsequent testing. The date s easy to work out based on reported daily new infections. So I’d take the total cases and subtract all the new ones from over 1 month ago. I think you might be asking a lot for retesting, is that actually happening in other locations where they are reporting recovered numbers? I don’t know, but I doubt that’s a universal practice around the world.

  36. Anthony says:

    So I just read Elizabeth Warren’s The Two-Income Trap, and while I could get into all sorts of discussions about lots of the things she says, I’m curious about something she doesn’t say. She discusses that many middle-class families had the wife go to work in the market through the 70s and 80s.

    My question is: Did the drastic lowering of marginal tax rates in the Reagan presidency have an influence on this transition? It seems is should have had some – sending another person to work when marginal income tax rates are in the 40s and 50s (plus another 6 or 7% for Social Security) won’t make as much financial sense as when the marginal tax rate is 28%. Has anyone studied this, or have anecdotal knowledge?

    • Erusian says:

      They could file separately, which would actually incentivize in the other direction. Back of the napkin, two people earning $50k each filing separately pay $16,000 in tax. A single person working to support a spouse earning $100k pays $23,000 in tax. Also, the average family is almost definitionally not paying the top rate.

      Further, the timing is off. Married women who work is a pretty standard growth trendline from at least 1955 to about 1995. (Unmarried women who work also trends up slightly but is similar to men in any case.) You’d have to explain how a trend that occurred both pre and post-Reagan was the result of Reagan’s tax changes.

      • Anthony says:

        Filing separately doesn’t work, because the thresholds are set up to be exactly half the married filing jointly thresholds, while the filing as single thresholds are not. People have been complaining of the “marriage penalty” since before the ’80s.

        The top rate in 1979 was 70%, plus social security, so closer to 77%. Middle-class families were mostly not paying that rate, but there were so many rates that adding a second income would probably push the marginal rate up a bracket or two.

        In 1987, the average family *was* paying the top rate, which was 28%.

        • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

          Filing separately doesn’t work, because the thresholds are set up to be exactly half the married filing jointly thresholds, while the filing as single thresholds are not. People have been complaining of the “marriage penalty” since before the ’80s.

          This. I’ve heard so many people claim that “you can just file separately” as if that actually solves the problem. A glance at the tax tables instantly shows this is not the case.

        • jmo says:

          The top rate in 1979 was 70%, plus social security, so closer to 77%.

          Just an FYI. You only pay SS tax on the first $x amount of income. Currently it’s $137,700. So for example, if you make $275,400 on or about July 2nd you’ll notice your paycheck suddenly jumps by 6.2% as you’ve hit the maximum taxable amount.

          I can’t find the exact number but the SS max in 1970 would be very roughly $20k. The 70% rate didn’t kick in until you hit an income of $200k which is equal to $1.3 million today.

    • baconbits9 says:

      You can see female labor force participation rate was moving steadily higher from 1950 through 1980, and if anything the rate of change slows during the 80s, but probably more doesn’t deviate much if you treat the recession years as a different animal.

      • Anthony says:

        Ok – I think this is pretty dispositive. It actually looks like the rate accelerated from about 1973 – 1982, then returned to the earlier growth rate, so the cause is probably inflation.

    • cassander says:

      It’s worth remembering that the pre-1986 code had higher rates but also much larger deductions. Effectively marginal rates didn’t actually change that much. The richest 1/5 paid 55% of taxes in 1979 and 58% of taxes in 1989, while the overall level of taxation hadn’t changed.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        This is a recently beloved right wing talking point but it is not at all undisputed: https://slate.com/business/2017/08/the-history-of-tax-rates-for-the-rich.html

        • cassander says:

          that article largely backs assertions. The author lays out a similar argument, and then says “but I don’t buy it” with no additional evidence offered.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I searched for “deduction” and found nothing. They didn’t even bother to address the point.

            Kennedy and Reagan each significantly cleaned up the tax code, lowering the supposed rate you pay but making you pay it on a lot more. You now get taxed on all your compensation[1].

            Imagine the tax code changes so I go from (a) paying $20,000 in tax on 100K in compensation plus 100K in untaxed compensation to (b) paying $20,000 in tax on 200K in compensation, I’m still paying the same amount. But one can still draw graphs showing (1) I’m getting so much more money, (2) I’m paying such a smaller amount of percentage tax. Even though, as stipulated, I’m paying the exact same number of dollars.

            [1] Except for health insurance, for no good reason. We could have fixed it then!

      • Anthony says:

        So baconbits provides strong evidence I’m wrong about tax rate changes having any effect, above.

        However, changing deductions doesn’t change the marginal rate, it changes the overall rate.

        In 1978, a married couple going from one income of $20,000 to two incomes of $30,000 would pay an additional $3,013 in federal income tax (plus $605 in Social Security and whatever state income tax). A married couple going from one income of $30,000 to two incomes of $40,000 would pay an additional $3,988 (plus $605 SS and whatever state).

        In 1987, going from $25,000 to $35,000 would have meant only $2,410 more income tax, and going from $35,000 to $45,000 only $2,800 more in income tax. Though the Social Security tax had gone up, and the additional $10,000 income would pay $715 in Social Security.

    • Spiritkas says:

      I’m not sure what tax cuts you are talking about under Reagan. He cut them at first and was famous for it, but then he raised then multiple times to even higher rates in many cases. What his reign was mostly about at the time was incredible uncertainty and changes in terms of tax policy with significant changes almost every single year of his presidency. Only in later years was he lionised as a great cutter of taxes for internal party storytelling Which diverged from reality.

      As others have pointed out these top rates don’t matter much as very few people pay those rates in a progressive tax system. if your partner can go out and earn a top salary, you would definitely have more money regardless of Relatively minor differences in tax rates as the new earner gets their own progressive tax steps. I’ve never understood the fear of tax brackets as I think many people interpret them wrongly, thinking their entire income is suddenly taxed at a higher rate vs a few dollars that spill over into a higher bracket from another high bracket, s a few 30% dollars but up against a few 37% taxed dollars for relatively small bracket to bracket jumps in the income ranges the overwhelming majority of people deal with. Also more money is more money, I don’t see people turning down a job for 250k when they take 220k currently, except for specific concerns around working conditions such as culture, location, hours worked, type of work etc.

      https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2017-12-15/the-mostly-forgotten-tax-increases-of-1982-1993

  37. a real dog says:

    Among the undeserved bans (of which multiple had already been touched by commenters), I think Howard Holmes had an interesting point and maybe failed a bit on delivery – but not to the degree I’d exclude him from a polite conversation.

    • acymetric says:

      Not to speak ill of the banned, but Howard made that point over and over and over in a way that got kind of intrusive. I definitely stopped paying attention to any comment thread once he became involved. It was an interesting point of view the first couple times, but after the 200th time it was just a tad tiresome seeing conversations constantly getting derailed in that direction.

      I’m not sure that is ban-worthy, but he also got off (relatively) light compared to the others.

      • gbdub says:

        +1

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        He was one of two banned users I thought was just pointing bait.

        I wasn’t sure he was doing it deliberately to troll, or as struggling to work through a mental issue, but either way, I just ignored everything.

      • Aapje says:

        IMO, he most consistently derailed threads into the same kind of productive and uninteresting conversation.

        • Randy M says:

          productive and uninteresting conversation

          Any chance one of those is a typo? If not, I can understand the ire; productive and uninteresting is exactly what I go to SSC to get away from.

          (And, to be serious, HH struck me as rather trollish as well, not that my opinion–or anything else in creation–matters to him.)

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      It looks to me like he made no effort whatsoever to be at all polite in that conversation, which makes sense given that he thinks politeness is entirely an act to raise one’s own opinion of oneself. While I think that belief of his is genuine, it unfortunately is not conducive to his participation in polite conversations on delicate topics.

  38. tcheasdfjkl says:

    Tbh I’m confused that the first person on the ban update list was only banned now; your list of example offending comments from them include ones from January and October that imo would merit banning pretty much immediately.

  39. I watched the James Bond movie, Goldfinger, recently, and in the movie Auric Goldfinger estimates that his plan to irradiate the gold at Fort Knox will raise the value of his own untainted gold by 10 times. Of course, in order to do so he has to launch a complicated plan involving nerve gas, lasers, and a dirty bomb, which is all easily foiled when James Bond converts his pilot to the light side through the medium of… sexual assault. Let’s not get into that part given the thread (kind of hard to express how much of a failure his plan was without mentioning it in passing). The 60s! Moving on…

    What safer ways to get a 10x return would you recommend to a super-villain?

    (Bonus question: which James Bond villain had the most reasonable plan that had the biggest returns with the lowest chance of failure).

    • Fakjbf says:

      Is it sad that I just now realized that Auric Goldfinger’s first name was a pun? Granted the last time I watched that movie I was maybe 13 but still.

    • Aapje says:

      Wait 10 years until people forget and then use CRISPR-Cas9 to design a nasty virus. Use those 10 years to buy up a lot of machines and factories that profit greatly from the current crisis. Create large supplies of crisis goods. Then during the virus-crisis that you create, wait a little until panic is greatest, then sell your machines and factories. Once sold, you undercut the companies you sold the machines and factories to, with your stored supplies.

    • John Schilling says:

      If we’re talking about purely financial gains, both “Mr. Big” (Live and Let Die) and Felix Sanchez (License to Kill) had the very pragmatic plan of selling lots of drugs to decadent Americans. That’s been a proven winner for about a century now, if we include alcohol and Prohibition. Mr. Big included the bit about addicting the target population with free drugs before jacking up the price, and keeping a psychic on staff to forestall unpleasant surprises, so I’ll give him the nod here. Just try to avoid gratuitously pissing off top-level national intelligence agencies by killing their people if you don’t absolutely have to.

      Outside of the financial realm, some of the earlier Bond villains had the clever scheme of being a geopolitical superpower and using covert operations to position themselves advantageously for a bit at global domination and/or hegemony. Very high potential return, and the failures are mitigated by using deniable operatives. We last saw those guys in “For Your Eyes Only”, or maybe “The Living Daylights” but that one mixed it up with some private drug-smuggling.

    • albatross11 says:

      If you’re a super villain with the resources and smarts to carry out such a plan, why not go into a legitimate line of business and get filthy rich, then use your wealth to influence politics and media in some direction more to your liking.

      • Purplehermann says:

        The powers that be stop you from achieving certain things legally.

        Changing the governmental style (to or from democracy for example) usually isn’t allowed.

      • Nick says:

        Doctor Doom says, Why not both?

      • keaswaran says:

        Big business is a fan of big regulation, because it makes it harder for their competitors. Baptists and bootleggers can both agree on prohibition of the alcohol business model.

      • fibio says:

        Ah, the Elon Musk gambit. Well played

    • Rock Lobster says:

      This is dumb nitpicking but in Casino Royale, after Le Chiffre’s plot is foiled, his broker calls him and tells him that his put options expired worthless but he hasn’t been able to calculate the loss yet. Then Le Chiffre states the exact amount without hesitation, as a way to show the audience that he’s a mathematical genius. But if the options expired worthless then the loss is just your cost basis. It’s trivial to find out, should be right there on Le Chiffre’s E*Trade page. If it were a more complex derivative trade, then we’d be talking.

      So that’s how my quarantine is going so far haha.

    • Spiritkas says:

      In most Bond films the villain has a private compound, henchmen, and is obviously already very wealthy. The best thing they can do is retire immediately to avoid the ire of Bond or the various governments who would want to stop you. Just retire, jump off the hedonic treadmill of power over others and just Netflix and chill or go skiing or whatever you want. The main problem with their secret lair is the death ray or whatever they have on hand. Just retire immediately and forget about global domination.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Scaramanga has an excellent plan for massive self-enrichment and the protection of the Chinese government to keep the CIA, MI6 et al. off his back. Where it all goes wrong is that what he wants most is not skiing, Netflix and chill or indeed power over others; it’s a pistol duel with Bond.

    • Lambert says:

      Start a ‘will it deathray’ youtube channel where you destroy common household items using your highly impractical lasers/sharks/explosives etc.

  40. albatross11 says:

    [eta: link included this time]

    This link.\ is an interesting Twitter thread on meat packing plants and why they have COVID-19 circulating.

    What it sounds like to me: These places are refrigerated, so virus probably survives a long time in the environment. They’re loud, so people probably yell a lot. They’re cutting with powered tools of various kind, so they’re probably creating aerosols. There are fans blowing all the time which likely move the droplets from me to you and from me to the meat, and then when the meat is cut into the air. Probably also you have workers largely working and also living in close quarters.

    • JPNunez says:

      Can you link the thread?

    • toastengineer says:

      Stupid question: couldn’t you eliminate spread inside a building by just constructing a mondo filter setup that sucks towards the ceiling and filters some large fraction of the building’s volume every second? Particles emit from infected, go up to where there aren’t any people, and get jammed in the HEPA filter and nuked with UV. I’m sure that’d be an insanely expensive retrofit but compared to just not being able to do business…

      • Lambert says:

        > some large fraction of the building’s volume every second

        I hope you have a good paperweight.
        It’d constantly be windy in any reasonably-sized office.

      • albatross11 says:

        I know there are HVAC systems designed to avoid airborne transmission of disease (used in hospitals, for example), which do some combination of HEPA filtering and UV sterilization on the air. I think the idea there is to avoid having dried-out droplet nuclei floating along through the air conditioner ducts, not so much to protect the people in the same room with the infectious patient.

        Whenever I go back to the office, I’m considering bringing one of the household HEPA filters I have at home and keeping it running in my office. These are rated for a certain number of air changes/hour in a room of a certain size. That won’t protect me from inhaling droplets from someone sitting in front of me, but it will probably filter out droplet nucleii floating around in the air in my office sooner or later.

      • noyann says:

        sucks towards the ceiling

        A downward flow would not have to fight gravity.

  41. Liface says:

    In most US cities, the rich generally live in the hills, and poor in the flats. Is there any city where it’s the reverse?

    • keaswaran says:

      My understanding is that this is a result of motorization of transportation. Back when everyone had to walk between home and other places, I think urban poor neighborhoods were often on hillsides while the areas closer to the center of the city (which was often at the riverfront) were wealthier. My understanding is that some of this pattern has persisted in the favelas of Brazil, and in the Andean cities of Colombia, where urban escalators and gondolas have started integrating the poor neighborhoods better into the city since the end of major hostilities in the drug war. I conjecture that this will result in major gentrification and displacement in the next decade or two, the way that recent changes in American urban desirability switched “inner city” neighborhoods from undesirable (and thus poor) to desirable.

      https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/colombia-medellin-neighborhood/index.html

      There’s probably effects that I’m missing though – marshiness would always have been undesirable for residential property in a city, and views would always be desirable. But there definitely have been some related shifts regarding technology – it used to be that the second floor of a building had the most expensive apartments (being sufficiently far from the street but not too much of a hike), until the elevator let the views of the top floor win out over the difficulty of getting up there.

      • CatCube says:

        Another consideration is that water transport used to be even more important than it is now–I don’t think the waterfront *itself* would be the ritzy part, because it would be warehouses, wharves, and factories. A lot of that port and manufacturing infrastructure no longer has to be there because before if you had it located at a distance you’d have to manhandle stuff from a boat into a horse-drawn wagon, then manhandle it off the wagon at your warehouse. We have forklifts and trucks now, for dealing with getting stuff off of water-borne transport.

        We also don’t need to rely so much on water-borne transport with roads and railroads, which allow more flexibility in placement of factories. Transshipment costs also eat you alive, so if you can avoid multimodal transport, by, say, just trucking it from your factory to their factory instead of your factory –> waterfront –> boat –> waterfront –> other person’s factory, that reduces demand for wharf space downtown a lot.

        • bean says:

          We have forklifts and trucks now, for dealing with getting stuff off of water-borne transport.

          The big thing here is shipping containers. Suddenly, you go from needing a ton of labor but not a lot of space (supports lots of communities at the waterfront in major cities) to needing a bunch of space but little labor. This killed off a ton of factories, too, and turned out to be uniquely terrible for New York for a bunch of reasons.

          But yeah, these days it’s usually just putting stuff in a container and paying someone to move it. You don’t even have to worry that much about how.

          • Scoop says:

            Agree on the importance of shipping containers. They’re not glamorous, but they’re probably one of the top ten inventions of the post-war era in terms of impact.

            Globalization as we know it doesn’t happen if you need a stevedore with a bale hook every time you want to transfer cargo. Not only does moving shipping containers seamlessly from boat to train to tractor-trailer save huge amounts of labor, it saves on huge amounts of theft. Shippers, from Roman times to WWII, used to count on losing ten percent of their merchandise every time it got loaded or unloaded. Containers didn’t eliminate theft — Goodfellas takes place within the container era — but they reduced it a ton.

      • HedonicRegression says:

        A similar altitude-inversion happened also within single buildings. Nowadays, the ritziest apartments are the penthouses at the top. In Ancient Rome, before the invention of the elevator, the “walk up” apartments at the top were the cheapest.

    • In Medellín (Colombia) quite a few up-and-coming suburbs are flat and central, while the poorest comunas are up in the hills surrounding the city. They’ve even installed gondolas and massive escalators to help poorer folks get around, which is super trippy – the kind of thing you would normally pay ~$20 to ride as a tourist attraction is boring old commuter transport! The counterpoint is that the glitziest suburb – Poblado – is also hilly.

      EDIT: confirming what keaswaran said.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think a lot of places in the Andes are high enough that the higher up you go, the more the population becomes Indians instead of whites or blacks–thanks to high-altitude adaptations, they’re mostly the people who can live comfortably up there.

        • Anthony says:

          Medellin is not that high up, though. It’s only 1500 m, more than a kilometer lower than Bogota. (But Bogota has mostly not grown up the mountainside, but out along the Sabana.)

        • Trashionalist says:

          Would such high-altitude adaptational differences be noticeable in any sort of modern lifestyle though? Even unconsciously? I would think that high-altitude adaptations only really make a difference if you’re engaged in strenuous labor or doing something like long-distance running, not making dinner, watching TV and sleeping before next day’s work down below. But I don’t know anything about high elevations except for brief trips to the Rockies. I just suspect this blog has many commenters who are eager to find more roles of unsubtle genetic differences in modern life than we should reasonably expect. I’d get it if there were a population adapted to Mt. Everest elevations, but I don’t know where you cross the line from “your ears pop when you drive up there” to “it’s exhausting just to stand and breath”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I’ve read that in Bolivia this drives some important social phenomena, but it may just not be enough of an altitude difference to matter around Medellin.

            And yeah, I definitely like the idea of subtle or invisible genetic differences having some interesting and surprising effect, so maybe I’m primed to see them.

          • Lambert says:

            Pregnancy.

          • Anthony says:

            La Paz is at 3,600 m, and its airport is in El Alto, at 4,000. El Alto is 85% Indian and 15% Mestizo.

    • bobert says:

      In Pittsburgh, PA, the poor generally live in the hills, whereas the rich are at lower eleavtions. The justification I heard for this was:
      When Pittsburgh was a very industrial town, there were large, consistent amounts of smog. Smog generally rose, so the rich purchased residences at lower elevations.

      I’m having trouble finding a direct source for this; however, comparing an elevation map to the median household income confirms this.

      • inhibition-stabilized says:

        …That’s actually the exact opposite of the story I heard. But I’m new to Pittsburgh and your theory seems better supported by the map, so without trying to dig further I guess whoever told me the opposite was probably mistaken.

        • Garrett says:

          Welcome to the area!

          The story given by bobert doesn’t match the tales I’m familiar with, either. The household income map isn’t that useful at this point because it reflects a post-industrial model. There are 2 separate things which need to be addressed: topology and distance.

          For those not familiar with the area, the rivers effectively form a pollution-trapping valley which still exists, though has been substantially mitigated by de-industrialization in the area. (The Clariton Coke Works are a continuing sore spot for some) So if you were living near the water you would have to deal with huge amounts of pollution. I’ve heard tales of yore of people waking up in the morning with inverted shadows on their pillows where their heads prevented soot from settling.

          Additionally, the topography makes it difficult to build large houses. It’s very common for single-family houses to have an entrance at the front of the house which is on one floor and an exit out the other side on another. Areas further away from the rivers tend to be flatter.

          Then you have the transportation problem. If you have gentle slopes, you can have a vaguely-standard (and efficient) grid pattern. But if you have severe slopes the roads have to switchback, though for pedestrians you can put in stairs (common in the area) or something more drastic, such as the Inclines. (See: Mount Washington Area just South of the Southern river, the Monongahela) There are 2 Inclines which remain in operation out of the many which were once here. But that makes for a more costly trip to work, which offsets the amount of house that you can afford. OTOH, once you get over that crest, the amount of pollution would have been reduced.

          So if you have money and want a place which has better air circulation you need to get away from the river valleys. If you want a place which is larger, you want a place which is flat, which means getting away from the rivers and other topological features. Being on the top of a hill facing the rivers meant that you had a terrible time getting to/from work, limited ability to build as well as all the pollution.

    • Anthony says:

      Many of San Francisco’s low-income housing projects were up in the hills. But they’re closing down and selling the hillside ones off to developers. Outside of the projects, the general pattern is true, but probably less so than across the Bay.

  42. Chalid says:

    The SSC readership must have a lot of people who tried introducing programming to younger kids. Anyone want to share advice?

    I was just going to get Scratch Jr and see where things went from there. This is for a smart five year old.

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, I was introduced to programming via an old programmable calculator (I’m old myself, so this was way before the days of the Internet or even FIDOnet). It had room for about 31 commands, but one of these commands was an “if”, and another was a “goto”. I was also introduced to LOGO, but at the time I didn’t find it nearly as interesting as the calculator. Sure, I could make it draw pretty pictures, but I could draw pretty pictures by hand just as quickly. The calculator let me write programs to quickly do things that I couldn’t do by hand !

    • jgr314 says:

      A prior thread on this topic: programming for kids. Admittedly, I think the target then was a bit older.

      When my children were that age, the limiting factor was their physical dexterity using a mouse/trackpad to move code blocks around. My fix was to act as their hands for a while, when necessary. We didn’t use scratch jr, but I’ve seen other kids using it without too much apparent frustration.

    • Erusian says:

      Find something they’re interested in and introduce them to how to build it using programming. Do they like dinosaurs? Get a programmable kinex kit and build a walking dinosaur. Videogames? Make a simple game. Etc. The most important thing for very young children is their motivation (since there’s no need for the skill to be immediately practical).

    • 10240 says:

      My little brother used Scratch, starting around 8, and then Python (maybe mostly PyGame?).

      Back when I started programming (a bit older), I used a Logo variant. It was quite friendly: it had a REPL, and one could draw things with simple sequences of commands, and then gradually proceed to more complex programs.

    • Jakub Łopuszański says:

      I believe that programming is mostly the ability to explain real world problems and solutions in very simple terms.
      As such, there is a lot of overlap with being able to explain something to a 5 y.o. son.
      Which is a good thing, because I also believe that children mostly learn by observing parents! So, if you are a good role model, there is a chance they’ll pick up the skill needed for being a good programmer.
      Thus, I make sure I answer all questions of my kids in simple terms, yet without hiding too much complexity – this makes explanations longer, but (as in programming) you build a base of common concepts quite quickly, so it pays off.

      So, I really want to teach my son programming, but I follow a long term strategy – I want him to be able to explain complicated things, not just know the syntax.
      And it seems to work! Today he has shown me a drawing of his idea for a new level to a game – he draws a lot of these recently, mixing ideas from games he saw with completely new mechanics and surprising twists.
      This picture had some hidden sublevels you could teleport to from various parts of a labyrinth which he denoted by using the same number at both ends of the teleport.
      Think about it: a 5 y.o. figured out a way to explain a non-3D topology of space using symbols. I had tears of joy in my eyes.

      This also touches on another idea I’ve implemented: I try to show him old games in semi-chronological order: pacman, nimbles (snake), boulder dash, sokoban, scorched earth, tetris etc. The idea is that these games have very simple mechanics – so simple, that you are able to model in your head what will happen next, and thus you can build “gadgets”. So, you can get quite creative playing them, but you have to use very simple tools of expression (like eating ground to create loops to catch butterflies in Boulderdash). Think: assembly, hacking!
      (In parallel, I’ve also exposed him to relatively new games like Little Big Planet and The Shooter, as they also have something to teach him – and there’s a level editor in LBP!)

      I’ve also observed quite early, that modern computers are a bit frustrating for my kids – while they are “easy” to use in some sense, the number of gestures, small icons, etc. seems to be overwhelming and cumbersome for their fingers, which makes it difficult to explore on their own – things like accidentally pressing a Windows button on a keyboard, or a difficulty of targeting a small icon, or accidentally zooming-in because one finger was still touching the screen when another moved often lead to request for help etc.

      So, I’ve gave him a Windows 2000 airgapped laptop, which he can do whatever he likes with.
      The low resolution (1024×768?) means icons are big, the old UI is quite standardized so easy to understand. Lack of internet means I don’t have to be afraid too much.
      Also, old Windows builds (IMHO) a more useful mental model: My Computer has things like “Drive C:” as opposed to things you see nowadays like “My Library” or “Music”.
      And it gives a lot of topics for deep conversations if kid can see RAM being scanned at boot, or a blue screen etc.
      There’s an argument to be made about preparing children for the actual environment of today the’ll eventually inhabit, but I believe that showing IT stuff in the “chronological” order makes it easier to follow the “inferential steps” and build abstraction levels from ground up.

      We also developed together (as in: I was live coding explaining and consulting every step with him) two games.

      1. https://codepen.io/qbolec/pen/QWbNgQe is based on his idea to have create a game like Boulderdash, but for two players, so we can play together! Turned out to be great adventure for both of us, as I’ve discovered that whole logic of the game can be described by a cellular automata with rules expressed simply enough that my son can propose new rules (“If there is a rock above air, then in next frame swap them”, etc.) I had a lot of fun figuring out rules for “water”, trying to encode the concept of pressure…
      Note, that he was not coding anything. He was watching me doing it, and I was constantly talking about how I am approaching it involving him in discussion and following his crazy ideas (for example if two characters meet they hug together – thanks to a single unicode character of two persons holding hands!)
      2. https://codepen.io/qbolec/pen/OJyJBpb is based on idea he has drawn, that he wanted a game where you are a white blood cell eating breadcrumbs to become larger and finally be able to swallow viruses. He proposed the mechanics of movement by swapping places with neighboring elements in the blood stream and insisted that all the blood vessels must be in constant movement due to heartbeat. That was a bit complex to implement, but I like the end effect.

      So, what’s next? I was playing with him on a grid paper with pencil in something like drawing pictures using instructions, and he seemed to like it, so I’ve installed dr.Logo on his laptop, and have shown him how to he can command the turtle on screen to draw a square. I tend to do as much as possible without the computer itself – if I can explain a concept of algorithm by playing with cars or drawing, then I think it’s better.
      I really like Logo, which AFAIR was designed as a language for children, with the explicit goal of teaching them how to think and verbalize thoughts in more strict way.
      Scratch to me is like an eye-candy version of Logo, but IMHO it’s actually a weakness.
      I believe that the more restricted the tool is, the more creative you get (think: twitters’ 128 chars for example, asm demo scene).
      Also, I like that Logo strikes a nice balance between being functional and imperative.
      An important thing in its design seems to be that a child can impersonate the turtle to figure out what will happen – it can use intuition like “I would go forward 20 steps and turn right and end up there facing in that direction…” to debug the software! And children already have a lot of intuitions about movement in space, so it’s really nice trick.
      Think how difficult, by comparison, it is to build intuitions about linked list in C++ or classes in Python.

      And I talk a lot with him about how stuff works helping him build good (useful) mental models – I think that to be able to program something you need to be able to analyze world and then reconstruct it back in the computer. So, for example: knowing that sound can be thought of as a sequence of numbers representing how far a membrane has bent over time, or that if you zoom in you can see the pixels and that if you mix a lot of red blue and green pixels you seem to get gray etc. I try to give him all that, not just because this is directly useful to program something, but also because on the higher level I hope to instill a belief in reductionism in him: I hope he will naturally feel that everything should in principle be explainable, it’s just a matter of finding a good/useful model.

      • Viliam says:

        When I was at high school, my classmate made a game like Boulderdash, with simple language to describe the rules. “If [object] is [relative position] and …; then put [object] to [relative position] and ….” (These days, this could have been a visual language.)

        If I remember it correctly, e.g. the stone was defined as: “If stone is here and air is down, put air here and put stone down. If stone is here and air is left and air is left-down, put air here and put stone left-down. If stone is here and air is right and air is right-down, put air here and put stone right-down.” This makes stones fall down in air, create ^-shaped heaps when they fall on other stones, and remain when they fall on anything else. (Note: Only the first rule that applies is executed, so if a stone could fall both left and right, it only falls left.)

        So we had the usual ground, stones, and monsters, but also a few more… I don’t remember which of them were in the original game. There was stone source “If stoneSource is here and air is down, put stone down.” and stone sink “If stoneSink is here and stone is up, put air up.”

        Then water, which felt down, made horizontally-moving waves on surface, melted ground (both the ground and water disappeared), and became static water when it couldn’t move anymore, and turned into a drop or wave when it could again. With water source, and water sink. Also, when stone happened on top of water, they changed places… which could be used to kill underwater monsters, or raise the waterline .

        Then acid, which felt downwards kinda like stone, but destroyed an object below it (and itself) when it couldn’t fall any lower. Also, acid source.

        We built a few interesting levels with these. Some were fun to play, some were mostly simulations that we enjoyed watching. Probably the most interesting part was designing the proper rules for water to look realistic.

    • There is a Mac program, and I think now also a Windows version, called Robowar. You are writing a program to control an onscreen tank. Your friend does the same. You put the two tanks in an arena and watch them fight each other. You then revise the program to keep the tank from battering itself to death against the wall of the arena and have another match.

      The language looked to me like something close to Assembly Language, although the Wiki page describes it as similar in structure to Forth.

      There was an earlier version called Robot War, but I think Robowar is the one I played with long ago.

    • Enkidum says:

      My kids used Scratch. They got the basics of if/else and loops, which is about all you could hope for at that age.

    • oriscratch says:

      Scratch is pretty great; for a couple years it was all I ever did for fun as a kid.
      (My username actually comes from there, as I made it up on Scratch and discovered that it was basically a free username that wasn’t taken on any other websites.)

      Start with something easy and fun to get them interested – making simple animations where the sprite moves around and says stuff is a good entry point. Doing a bouncy ball (forever move 10 steps, if on edge bounce in the normal Scratch) is also easy and fun, and can be turned into a very basic Pong game once they get better at it. It’s also surprisingly capable, and I developed a lot of more abstract programming skills by attempting to self-design 3d raycasters and save functions for games on there.

      There’s also Bitsbox, but that’s aimed at older kids and I personally find it hard to navigate. I think that very basic Python (like just letting them mess around on with the turtle) could possibly be doable for a 5 year old.

    • matkoniecz says:

      I have seen “Father following his kids ‘exact instructions’ to make a sandwich” gif that was fun (it may be based on https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5d16ph or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN2RM-CHkuI ).

      Something like that may be an interesting start, suitable also for a small children.

      —-

      Also, I support “parent is programming and explaining what is happening, child instructs what should be added” idea. It would at least explain how programming works.

  43. theredsheep says:

    https://acoup.blog/2020/05/01/collections-the-battle-of-helms-deep-part-i-bargaining-for-goods-at-helms-gate/

    Somebody introduced this awesome blog a few OTs back; it ruthlessly analyzes pop-culture depictions of war, especially ancient and medieval. The most recent update, a look at The Battle of Helm’s Deep from both the book and the movie of The Two Towers, introduces a wonderful notion–that Saruman is an example of a really smart but arrogant person who assumes that general intelligence and skill in one limited domain makes him effortlessly competent in every other domain. This is something I’ve run into a lot, and Saruman is an example most internet people are at least somewhat familiar with, so can we make this a thing? Can we just call this kind of pompous naivete “Sarumanning”?

    • broblawsky says:

      I feel almost positive that there’s another term for this already. It isn’t quite the Dunning-Kruger effect, but it’s similar.

      Anyway, it makes a certain amount of sense that Saruman would be worse at warcraft than Gandalf; Gandalf is primarily a servant of Manwe, who is something of a warrior, while Saruman was originally a servant of Aule, who definitely isn’t.

      • theredsheep says:

        IIRC Gandalf is actually a supporter of Nienna, the valier who weeps for the world’s ills. Nothing to do with war. And Saruman’s main opponent here is poor mortal Theoden anyhow.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          there is no hint in the Silmarilion that Curumo (the Maia who would be Saruman) was a great warrior among the Maiar (indeed, I cannot find that he did any war-fighting before this; his Maia name comes from the Unfinished Tales – he does not appear in the Silmarilion save as a wizard); he was a Maia of Aulë the Smithlord, and it shows. Saruman is an builder, engineer, plotter and tinkerer.

          So this Maia stuff turns out to be one of the more interesting parts of Tolkien’s world. Here we have a typical pantheon of gods, and each of them has a group of lesser celestials who take after them and sometimes incarnate for thousands of years.
          This is actually quite unusual for the mythologies Tolkien was familiar with. The Greco-Roman gods don’t have angels: Iris or Hermes is the singular messenger/angelos in Iliad and Odyssey respectively, the satyrs serve Dionysus but are always embodied (and bawdy) down on Earth, having no place in Olympus/Heaven. Ditto Pan and the lesser Pans (cf. Nonnus, Dionysiaca XIV). Norse mythology gives Odin and Freya a whole tribe of psychopomps to fill the function of the singular Hermes, but there’s nothing about Valkyries whose personalities take after the one or the other. Nothing of the sort in Finnish myths.
          Of course he could have been influenced by Christianity, but the idea of angels being divided into groups who nature takes after a leader is exclusive to non-canonical elaborations of the Devil’s angels. And neither demons nor loyal angels incarnate like the Maia (the 5 wizards et al): the lore is that angels put on quite temporary bodies, not live out human or superhuman (Gandalf is 2,000 years old) lives.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @MilesM: He said he explicitly was in general. That says nothing about his fictional Maia, whose personalities taking after specific gods and incarnating are quite unlike either demons or loyal angels.

          • MPG says:

            The temporary bodies thing is, so far as I know, unprecedented, but mythology is (IMHO) not the right place to look. The analogues are really to be found in Neoplatonist philosophy, especially the sophisticated theological-cosmological models of someone like Iamblichus. (Or whoever wrote On the Mysteries, if by chance it really wasn’t his). Tolkien should have at least have heard of the system of heroes, demons, and angels from Augustine’s refutation of Porphyry of Tyre–much more fragmentary than Iamblichus–in City of God 8-10.

            Christian models of the heavenly powers–the “virtues, archangels, angel choirs,” the Great Chain of Being, and all that, described eloquently by a friend of Tolkien in The Discarded Image, owe a great deal to such Neoplatonism, often by way of pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

            I’m not sure, therefore, that we can easily distinguish between the Christian and non-Christian grounding of the divine hierarchy of the Silmarillion, though there is a general tendency over time, at least from the materials in BoLT to those in the published Silmarillion and Morgoth’s Ring, for the Valar to become more and more nearly “angelic” and less like pagan deities.

            (Double points to the first person who catches the allusion in my second paragraph….)

    • Erusian says:

      Can we call a solution that’s technically superior but practically inferior an Uruk-Hai? “Yeah, yeah, it goes twice as fast but what we need here is really reliability. The old machines from ten years ago gives that, total Uruk-Hai.”

      (PS: Anyone who knows the book will remember Gandalf pointedly says that Saruman is in over his head and his arrogance is blinding him. The best analogy to Saruman seems to be the Soviet idea of material superiority. Build a lot of really good tanks and you’ll win the battle, no matter who the command staff is, so let’s get a purging. Likewise, Saruman builds a big army full of fancy super-troops, puts them in armor, and then thinks that’s enough despite their inexperience. He clearly believes the literal materials, the bodies and armor, of his troops are the deciding factor so he sends people into battle who were literally born yesterday.)

      • albatross11 says:

        Well, he also had really good intelligence (both humint and something a bit like satellite surveillance) on the opposition.

        • Erusian says:

          That fits the paradigm: I have great intelligence from my satellite, let’s send out an army that was literally born yesterday!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Back in engineering school we referred to this as “Engineer’s Disease.”

      • acymetric says:

        Seems incredibly appropriate. (Sorry engineers!)

      • theredsheep says:

        Probably more apt, but I will continue to think of it as Saruman Syndrome.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        This framing seems a lot closer to “ha ha, look at the nerd” than I’m comfortable with.

        In my experience, the top performers in a field tend to have high levels of training, experience, and intelligence. People who lack different legs of that tripod tend to make different mistakes. For a trivial example from software engineering, consider engineer A who used a bootcamp to switch careers five years ago and has spent all of that time working on the same system in various capacities. And also engineer B who just finished their Master’s, but only has a couple internships in the way of real world experience. Noone has a hard time believing that those two can both have useful insights that benefit their team and their project.

        For an example of someone with only one leg of the tripod still making unique contributions, consider the fable of the high-power consultants (high training, high intelligence) who have never actually run the production line and don’t listen to the (high experience) person who has. When I was in business school, that fable got retold in several HBS cases.

        To return to the original example. Saruman’s mistake was not believing that his intelligence made him better at warfare than opponents who lacked it, it was believing that intelligence was such a weakness for his opponents that his strength in that arena could overcome large deficits elsewhere. If his premise had been “I’m better at warfare than they average officer”, he would have been entirely correct. But his opponents were not average officers; Theoden was an intelligent, well-trained commander with a lifetime of experience.

        TLDR; Saruman’s intelligence got him pretty far, just not to the top. His approach did work against the local orcs. Probably would have worked against an opponent like Eomer. But didn’t work against Theoden and Gandalf. And wouldn’t have worked against Sauron.

        • acymetric says:

          This framing seems a lot closer to “ha ha, look at the nerd” than I’m comfortable with.

          I don’t think engineer maps to “nerd” that well (we aren’t talking specifically about software engineers, as far as I can tell). I would say less than half of my classmates when I studied engineering would be what I considered “nerds” (I was one). Later, in my professional life, having worked with dozens of engineers I can only think of two that I would label as nerds.

        • MPG says:

          I don’t know about Conrad Honcho’s one-liner, but I’m certain that Bret Devereaux, the author of the original post at ACOUP, is not engaging in any kind of nerd-shaming. I mean, the guy’s an ancient historian (a military historian to boot: a nerd by historians’ standards!), and he’s writing about the Lord of the Rings. When he compares Saruman to those who make too much of STEM, he’s doing so very much from within the intra-academic competition for funding and prestige, in which STEM has been winning out because it brings “real world results” (true) and because it has secured a reputation for requiring intelligence (often true, but not exclusively). More generally, the point is that not all intelligence is transferable, something those of us who do work on the ancient world have to contend with all too often: far too many engineers and such do try to make pronouncements about the past, without even understanding that there are disciplines that do this kind of work, let alone understanding how they work.

          Nothing you’re saying rebuts either that subtext or the critique of Saruman, since I see no reason to think Saruman is “‘better at warfare than the average officer,'” at least if Eomer is “average.”

          But that’s only my two cents’ worth. I did once sit at a table with Bret at a conference, but it’s been years, so don’t put my words in his mouth.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This framing seems a lot closer to “ha ha, look at the nerd” than I’m comfortable with.

          I mean, this is what we engineers (of which I am one) called it in engineering school. It was mostly to remind us not to go outside of our areas of expertise.

          • Garrett says:

            > It was mostly to remind us not to go outside of our areas of expertise.

            I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is the biggest component of “professionalism”.

    • matkoniecz says:

      I am really excited for this series, I liked one about Minas Tirith defense. I was unaware that military part of LOTR was written so well.

      • cassander says:

        One of my favorite things about the silmarillion is that the greatest defeat of the elves comes about largely because of the difficulty of coordinating two armies separated by significant distances and not under unified command, exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who fought on the somme.

    • achenx says:

      Awesome. I read the series on the Siege of Gondor last year sometime and it was fantastic. Looking forward to reading this one.

    • gbdub says:

      The acoup post is excellent, but be sure to read the comments over there. A couple of interesting points:
      1) Saruman’s strategic plan sucks… his long term goal is to rival Sauron, but his army is an order of magnitude too small. So he may as well ignore Rohan until after the battle of Minas Tirith (which he knows is coming). Rohan will ride to Gondor’s aid, and Saruman can sweep in behind. His best case scenario is actually what happens – Gondor wins, but both Gondor and Rohan are badly spent. Saruman could come in and mop up at least Rohan.
      2) some of the book contradicts the criticisms of Saruman in the post. In particular, the book implies Saruman’s army was carrying equipment to assault Helm’s Deep, and may not have actually completely scattered after winning at the Ford. Saruman’s plan may have been to proceed directly to Helm’s Deep… perhaps to cut it off, forcing Théoden into open battle, or to beat him there and take it before it could be reinforced?

      • matkoniecz says:

        To quote LOTR narrator about Orthank and Saruman’s efforts in general:

        what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model
        or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress. armoury, prison, furnace of
        great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed
        at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable
        strength.

        Also, ACOUP author in comments:

        In practice, I think this speaks to a catastrophic miscalculation by Saruman in terms of the military resources available to Sauron – it hasn’t yet occurred to him that, apart from being a blocking force against Rohan, he is militarily irrelevant. The unnamed leader of the Haradrim who rides beneath the snake banner is a more meaningful military power.

        So I think if Gandalf hadn’t showed up, we’d still be talking about Saruman’s noob errors, but from the strategic perspective of “how did this dummy get himself into an utterly optional and entirely unwinnable war with Sauron.” I’m sure I’d get to wheel out Hara Tadaichi’s great quote, “We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.”

      • Bugmaster says:

        I don’t remember much of the movies, but according to the books, Saruman isn’t exactly wrong. From the outset, it’s obvious to everyone in the know (so, like, maybe 5 or 10 people) that the war for Middle-Earth will not be won through brute force or manpower, but through will. Sauron controls his forces by will alone (well, being mostly disembodied, he kinda has to); to the extent that Gandalf can oppose him, he can do so because his will can temporarily triumph over Sauron’s.

        Saruman gets a hold of a Palantir, engages in a direct battle of minds with Sauron, and believes that he can win — not realizing that he’d already lost. In Saruman’s defence, though, his course of action is actually fairly reasonable.

        (spoilers, sort of)

        Saruman is a Maia, just like all the Wizards as well as Sauron himself. What’s more, Saruman is the chief Maia appointed to be the guardian of Middle-Earth. His personal power is immense, overshadowing even Gandalf the Gray, and he can draw on the other Istari for support — not to mention Orthanc. Sauron likewise started out with immense power, but was defeated and largely depowered, and Saruman knows this. On top of that, Sauron put most of his power into a single point of failure — the One Ring — and then promptly lost it.

        From Saruman’s point of view, going mind-to-mind with Sauron is actually not a bad idea. It doesn’t matter how many kabillions of Orcs and monsters Sauron controls, because once his will is broken, they’ll either turn and run or (preferably) bow down to the new master.

        Obviously, Saruman vastly underestimated Sauron’s mental prowess, but hindsight is always 20/20. Hubris and corruption through genuinely good intentions is one of the central themes in the books, but Saruman isn’t genre-savvy enough to figure this out (neither is anyone else, really, with the possible exception of Galadriel). I should also note that Saruman’s power was ultimately broken as a result of literal divine intervention, which no one could’ve foreseen at the time. But, of course, history is written by the victors…

        • Ouroborobot says:

          being mostly disembodied

          Irrelevant nitpick: Sauron is very much implied to have a physical body in the books. One of the things that always makes me cringe about the films is the inexplicable decision by Jackson & company to interpret the metaphorical “eye” of Sauron as a literal flaming lighthouse-eyeball. I love the films, but I think the writing is the weakest aspect by far.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I thought Tolkien established that Sauron was a ghost in the Third Age. He had a body, was a badass warlord, got captured and was treated like a medieval hostage in Numenor, persuaded them to build a temple of Melkor, wandered off and became a badass warlord again, and got his body killed.
            The Ring is his D&D phylactery.

          • Ouroborobot says:

            For a while, yeah. It’s implied he re-formed his body at some point though. Gollum describes him having “only four fingers on the Black Hand”, and there are other passages such as Denethor saying “He will not come save only to triumph over me when all is won. He uses others as his weapons” that would seem to imply a non-eyeball physical form.

          • Bugmaster says:

            AFAIK both Le Maistre Chat and Ouroborobot are correct. However, at the time Saruman learned of Sauron’s return, Sauron was still very much disembodied, and in the early stages of regaining his power after being thoroughly defeated. As I said, this would’ve appeared to be the optimal time to strike against him.

          • acymetric says:

            I think it is fair to say that even if you assume he is disembodied, “giant flaming eyeball spotlight on top of a tower” wasn’t the best way to portray that.

      • Deiseach says:

        his long term goal is to rival Sauron

        That’s correct, and he is in way over his head (but does not realise it). His immediate goal, because he’s smart enough to recognise that you are either with Sauron or against him, there is no hope of neutrality or remaining a small independent power, and he is convinced Sauron is going to be the winner since Gondor is exhausted, is to convince Sauron “Hey, you can trust me, make me your satrap!”

        “And listen, Gandalf, my old friend and helper!” he said, coming near and speaking now in a softer voice. “I said we, for we it may be, if you will join with me. A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

        Waiting for any scraps that Sauron may care to throw him after Gondor has been defeated means waiting to get nothing, whereas if he controls Rohan he has a small but definite bargaining chip from which he hopes to slowly and subtly extend his influence and become a trusted counsellor of Sauron. Taking over Rohan independently before Sauron weakens Gondor and presenting it on a plate to Sauron, instead of waiting for Sauron’s forces to draw the Rohirrim away and do all the work, looks better when it comes time to plead “See, I was on your side all along!”

        He makes a mess of it, of course, because as pointed out he has no military experience and is going it alone on the basis “I am so much smarter than these idiot Horse Lords, all you need to do is pour More Orcs on top of them and flatten them with superior numbers”. And no doubt but that Sauron is not fooled for one moment by his protestations of loyalty, as we see in the rivalry between the two three (I keep forgetting the Moria Orcs) companies of Orcs that captured Merry and Pippin (if the kommisar of the Mordor Orcs has it figured out, you can bet Sauron has it figured out too):

        ‘You have spoken more than enough, Uglúk,’ sneered the evil voice. ‘I wonder how they would like it in Lugbúrz. They might think that Uglúk’s shoulders needed relieving of a swollen head. They might ask where his strange ideas came from. Did they come from Saruman, perhaps? Who does he think he is, setting up on his own with his filthy white badges? They might agree with me, with Grishnákh their trusted messenger; and I Grishnákh say this: Saruman is a fool, and a dirty treacherous fool. But the Great Eye is on him.

        Swine is it? How do you folk like being called swine by the muck-rakers of a dirty little wizard? It’s orc-flesh they eat, I’ll warrant.’

        • Bugmaster says:

          You are correct, but IMO your account is incomplete. Originally, Saruman really did believe that he could take Sauron on in a Maia-a-Maia fight. That’s why he engaged Sauron directly via the Palantiri network. Obviously he underestimated Sauron, but only by a small (though fatal) margin. Even after getting his mind broken and partially enslaved, Saruman retained much of his power and a portion of his free will — enough to at least attempt to undermine Sauron covertly.

    • DarkTigger says:

      Sorry, but isn’t Sarumans whole plan based on the assumption that he could break, Rohan with out running into anykind of organized resistance, since he controlls Theoden. (ironic since he is controlled in the same way by Sauron)

      His game plan never consited on having to fight an all out battle, or having to storm an fortified position. Only after the spell on Theoden was broken, his hand was forced, and he needed to take the King quickly, before he could muster an organized defense.
      To me that does not sound, like he felt effortlessly competent in the domain of warfare, but had a plan that played to his strenghts, that only failed when an Black Swan event (Gandalf acting against him) happened.

      • theredsheep says:

        Bear in mind that the “demonic possession” thing is exclusive to the movie; in the book, Theoden is convinced by Wormtongue that everything is hopeless, and Gandalf has only to shut Wormtongue up and talk sense into Theoden. Saruman couldn’t count on Theoden staying immobilized by grief and fear forever, and even if he did, there were still lots of fighting men in Rohan who would not necessarily have scattered and died just because their king was paralyzed. The effectiveness of the resistance would be greatly diminished, but he would very much have to fight to convert the whole country into a support system for his Uruk-Hai.

        • John Schilling says:

          Right, but there’s still a huge difference between having to fight scattered bands of elite cavalry and a generic peasant (well, yeoman) resistance, and having to fight an army lead by possibly the most skilled military commander of the age. If Saruman’s ambitions are ever going to extend to Rohan, and you’ve got Theoden wallowing in despair now, that’s a good argument for striking now, and hard.

        • DarkTigger says:

          Well yes, still look at the example given for an failure of Saurman army: dispersing after the battle at the ford at the Isen.
          Yes this might have lost him the war, but as Bret (the blogger) describes, an pre-modern army might have carried food for 5-10 days. They marched 2 days, and won a major battle, against the only organized force they expected in the area and would have another two or three day’s of marching befor reaching the Rohan capital.
          Like John Shilling said, his plan was defeating disorganized bands of aristocrats in detail, and not fighting the flower of the Rohan cavalery on their hometurf.

          • theredsheep says:

            Which is to say, his entire strategy hinges on Grima’s continued persuasiveness. This is not particularly good planning. About as bad as his larger plan depending on his capturing the ring first.

            Also, note that Bret/ACOUP’s opinion is that Denethor is a superior strategist to Theoden, even if Theoden is overall a much better leader. It’s at least plausible that the Witch King is up there too. And if we’re talking of people with experience in war, well, Sauron’s got thousands of years of it. He was fighting wars way back in First Age Beleriand. One imagines the Haradrim and Easterlings likewise have some practice with violence as well. Really, Saruman faces a steep learning curve here.

          • DarkTigger says:

            Yes, Saruman tries to take Theoden out of the picture, and than is to catious to seek battle with the enemies main force asap.

            All I say is, that this is not the behavior of somebody who feels incredible supirior to his enemy.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I have to admit that in Saruman’s place, Grima’s continued persuasiveness would have seemed a good bet considering how long it had already continued. How could I know that it was about to run up against the suddenly increased persuasiveness of Gandalf (who had already been in Rohan a number of times with little to show for it besides a really nice horse)?

          • littskad says:

            The witch-king was certainly an excellent general. He’d been fighting the Numenorean remnant in Eriador for millennia, and had already succeeded in destroying the tripartite kingdom that Arnor had become (Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan), reestablishing control of Mordor after Gondor’s eventual lapse in watchfulness after the Last Alliance, capturing and keeping Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul), and accomplishing the extinction of the royal line in Gondor.

          • While listing generals, you might consider Aragorn, who had a successful military career in Gondor starting in his twenties and is older than Theoden, only a year or so younger than Denethor.

    • Nick says:

      I took a look at the blog, which is cool, and I just want to note I see a few old SSC commenters: Mary Catelli and Alsadius both commented in the last two months. It sometimes feels like the Internet is the same 20 people over and over.

    • Randy M says:

      This gives me a new understanding of the people who criticize the movies. I’ve never sat down with a map and studied the events of the movie before, let alone compared with the novels; it’s a shame they don’t really hold up when the source material does.

      I’m honestly quite put out that Jackson makes such a hopeless tangle of this sequence, because it is sufficiently tangled that I cannot really use it to explore any interesting historical concepts.

      but also

      So while mashing the operational context of this sequence into unrecognizable mush saddens me, I have to say I honestly cannot see a better way to do it while still resolving these problems

      • Evan Þ says:

        I suggested one better way in the comments: merge Helm’s Deep and Dunharrow, and have the battle close to Edoras. Unfortunately, it was rightly criticized as departing too far from the novels.

    • Loriot says:

      I’ve also been reading ACOUP lately after being introduced to it here, and it is really fascinating. Shame it takes so long to read!

  44. hash872 says:

    It’s kind of fascinating that humanity hasn’t really solved the ‘urban transport smaller than a car’ problem, huh? Other than I guess bicycles, which are not practical in some weather conditions (many prominent 1st world countries are in northern climates). The only two good options that I know of are….. Segways [snickers], and electric scooters? And both are subject to the same snow/sleet/rain issues that bicycles are- plus, none of them can really handle transporting goods (groceries, supplies from the hardware store, a small appliance you just bought, etc.) Just seems odd in spite of the 21st century having multiple vehicle categories (planes, space shuttles, trains, automobiles, subways, etc.), no one’s really invented a practical smaller than a car one. Is anything widespread in China at all?

    Obstacles include- some degree of weather protection/traction on slippery roads. Power/combustion source (but there are tons & tons of small cycle engines in existence? Lawnmowers, weedwhackers, 4 wheelers, etc.?). And of course where to actually drive the small vehicle- car drivers are famously aggressive and it could be dangerous to share even a 25 mph city road with them, but pedestrians don’t want it on the sidewalk with them either.

    Like- is there a reason no one’s built essentially a small golf cart with a trunk for urban dwellers- max speed 20 mph? In the country the product categories of ‘smaller than a car’ are enormous- snowmobiles, 3 & 4 wheelers, there are dozens of different small farming vehicles with a pickup bed, and so on. None of these could be adapted for the city? Just seems odd

    • rocoulm says:

      I’m still waiting for the Asimovian 100+mph pedestrian treadmills in hyperloop-style low-pressure tubes.

    • Randy M says:

      Like- is there a reason no one’s built essentially a small golf cart with a trunk for urban dwellers- max speed 20 mph?

      This isn’t about building a car, this is about building a community. I’ve seen this often in, say, small beachside towns or other retirement communities with good weather.

      Transportation has to get you where you need to be in a reasonable amount of time, safely, and with space for transporting possibly a couple of kids and at least a few bags of groceries or a couple pieces of luggage. If you don’t need to go far, then you don’t need to go fast, and you can make do with a moped or something. But a lot of people aren’t going to feel as safe on the highway on a motorcycle at 60 (and for those that like it, I imagine that feeling of unsafety is a feature, not a bug).

      So once you account for engine, driver’s and passenger seats, trunk, and frame, you’ve go the smaller end of what is currently available in the range of practical consumer vehicles.

    • EGI says:

      I am somewhat puzzeled by this for about 20 years now. A big part is probably that especially used cars are so cheap that it is impossible to offer a significant price advantage with a small scale production and th