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 Emil Kierkegaard has access to an unpublished study of 4450 Vietnam vets and finds “no relationship of gout to IQ, income, education, and no interactions either.”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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1,425 Responses to Open Thread 153

  1. atreic says:

    This is my new favourite example of policies as organisational scar tissue

    • noyann says:

      A scar leads to diminished function of the tissue, not a now neutral-or-worse persistence of a once useful reaction. A better word would be a ‘societal neurosis’, it also allows for re-learning and being healthier after shedding the obsolete policies, which cannot be done with a scar.
      There is also an infrequent usage of ‘scar’ that includes the plus side of acquired usefulness, but this stretches the notion of ‘scar’ too much, imo (I once heard immunulogists refer to acquired serological immunity as a ‘sero-scar’ from an infection).

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      The actual Maginot line is not actually a good example of this. There are other better local experts on this, but the French (the ones in charge, anyway) understood quite well what the Line did and didn’t do, and what it did do had real military value.

      • Telomerase says:

        That’s true, the Maginot Line did have many failings but the French “Dyle Plan” expected a mobile battle. The French even spent more on their air force than the Germans (and so did the British, separately), and had more tanks and in most ways better tanks.

        And the Maginot Line had the enormous benefit of not being destabilizing… unlike the air forces, it didn’t reward striking first.

        The Swiss WW2 defenses can be considered very successful, they deterred Operation Tannenbaum. And they included many fixed fortifications, including the “national redoubt” which gave them the ability to threaten to cut off Germany from Italian rail communication, essentially forever.

        https://original.antiwar.com/bwalker/2012/02/01/how-the-swiss-opted-out-of-war/

  2. Egregious Philbin says:

    How can someone who used (confirmed) knockoff THC cartridges for a short period of time recover their lung health?

    (Aside from quitting, which I’ve done.)

    I don’t have any symptoms or reason to believe my lungs are not healthy per se. But the usage could not have been good for me. I feel ashamed and just wish to make a concerted effort to undo any damage.

    • Garrett says:

      Your initial best bet would be to visit a pulmonologist and make sure that you actually have suffered harm to lung health. They’d also be best able to guide you through any treatment which might help.

  3. mikk14 says:

    I have written a blog post about an old working paper of mine on the theme of economic convergence: http://www.michelecoscia.com/?p=1801

    Quick summary: economic convergence is the tendency of poorer economies to grow more quickly than more developed ones. Whether this actually happens or not is an interesting question. In the paper, we look at municipalities in Colombia and at two hypotheses. If there is economic convergence, is this connected to good institutions (e.g. good state governments foster convergence) or by informal social networks (e.g. poor municipalities tend to raise to the level of municipalities with which they have the strongest communication links)? We find evidence for the latter.

  4. Luke Perrin says:

    I learned recently that the reason that adults can’t hear high frequencies is simply because their ears are larger. This made me wonder if there could be a correlation between size and music preferences. This would explain the stereotype that women tend to like pop and men tend to like rock. Rock has lower frequencies which fit men’s larger ears.

    The easiest way to test this would be to compare general body size against music preferences within genders. Does anyone have a dataset containing music preferences and height or weight?

    • Kaitian says:

      I’m skeptical ear size is the reason. As far as I know, the ability to hear high tones declines through your whole life, so old people would hear much less than younger people even though they aren’t larger. Then again, the outer ear does grow throughout life, but older people are not known for enjoying bass-heavy music.

      The stereotype of women liking pop and men liking rock fits with the general cultural norm that men like rough and “dangerous” things while women like pretty and polished things. These genres are also heavily marketed towards these genders. So I doubt that a biological explanation is useful here.

    • noyann says:

      The wavelength of 20kHz* is ~1.7cm, ISTM that is too much to make a difference in the ear canal or inner ear.

      *as an upper boundary

    • emdash says:

      I would be interested on seeing a source on the ear size thing. Age related hearing loss is mostly caused by accumulated damage to the hair cells in your cochlea and that effect is known to hit high-frequency regions first (here’s some sources). It’s my understanding that this effect happens more or less continuously over the course of your life, so I just always assumed that the reason adults couldn’t hear the same frequencies as children was because they had more hair cell damage.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Rock music probably has more of the very high frequencies which you lose in ordinary age-related hearing loss than do other kinds of music, due to its greater use of distortion as an effect.

      • acymetric says:

        High frequency overtones/harmonics, yes, but the general melodies and arrangements are probably lower pitched on average (and more concentrated in the middle ranges) than pop music. Well, except for those sweet, sweet guitar solos anyway.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          As I understand it, the HF loss from aging doesn’t make a difference once you get down to where the fundamental frequencies of all voices, and nearly all instruments, lie; it’s just some of the overtones that you lose. The highest note on a standard piano keyboard, for example, is pitched at 4186 Hz; my pretty ordinary 63-year-old ears can hear not just the fundamental of that note but the second and third harmonics as well.

          • Exetali Do says:

            my pretty ordinary 63-year-old ears can hear not just the fundamental of that note but the second and third harmonics as well

            How do you do this?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            If you mean how do I know, I admittedly can’t listen to a C8 played on a piano and say “hey, I can hear the 2nd and 3rd harmonics.” What I can do is listen to a succession of sine tones at increasing frequencies and make note of where I start losing the ability to hear them, which happens right around 13 KHz, which means I can hear 8372 Hz and 12558 Hz.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      Nope, that’s not true. Age-related hearing loss is due to the loss of hair cells in the inner ear–wavelength vs. ear dimensions has nothing to do with it. Someone posted a well-researched answer to the question on StackExchange. tl;dr: the hair cells in your inner ear respond to different frequencies based on how far along the spiral of the cochlea they are; the high-frequency ones on the outer edge are the first to feel the negative effects of aging.

  5. Aapje says:

    Dutch fixed expressions predict the future better than Scott

    ‘De vermoorde onschuld spelen’ = Acting like the murdered innocence

    Acting angry or surprised at being accused or suspected of something. This is used in particular when suspicion is clearly warranted and the surprise or anger seems like a tactic by a guilty person. This probably comes from a 1625 play by Vondel: ‘Palamedes oft vermoorde onnooselheyd’ (Palamedes or murdered innocence). This was a political play written about a political conflict between Prince Maurits of Orange and Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, where the latter was accused of treason and hanged. Vondel wrote an adaptation of a Greek tragedy to argue the point. The Greek tragedy is the story of Palamedes, who was falsely accused of treason by Odysseus.

    Given that the expression now implies that the person is actually guilty, the play probably didn’t convince that many people that Van Oldenbarnevelt was innocent of treason.

    ‘Zoden aan de dijk zetten’ = putting sod/turf on the dike

    Making a difference. Can also be used with a negation, arguing that if something doesn’t put sod on the dike, it doesn’t make a difference.

    ‘Besje’ = little berry

    Granny or old woman.

    ‘Chocoladeletters’ = Chocolate letters

    Fat, shouty, exaggerated headlines in a newspaper. Often used disparagingly by the center-left to describe the most popular (center-right) newspaper in The Netherlands, De Telegraaf, when they engage in propaganda and/or activism that the person who uses this expression doesn’t like.

    This terminology refers to the tradition of giving people their initial in chocolate, during the Sinterklaas holiday. These initials are often written in the Égyptienne typeface. This was the first typeface designed for phototypesetting, which no longer required metal type & allowed for a far larger range of fonts and images. However, this technology required ‘fat’ typefaces, as well as serifs. This is also desirable when making letters from chocolate, as the strokes of the letters need to be fat enough for the letter to hold together, but yet not so compact that it is hard to break off a piece of chocolate to eat. Phototypesetting typefaces like Égyptienne provide this with their fat, but not too fat, strokes and serifs.

    The chocolate letters derive from pastry letters, seen here in a 1615 painting by German painter Peter Binoit. Pastries like these are still eaten at the end of the year, consting of puff pastry filled with almond paste or persipan.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      This is also desirable when making letters from chocolate, as the strokes of the letters need to be fat enough for the letter to hold together, but yet not so compact that it is hard to break off a piece of chocolate to eat.

      Some clever design goes into making letters that seem to be roughly the same font size while having every letter of the alphabet contain the same amount of chocolate, so Jaap doesn’t become jealous of Willem…

    • consting of puff pastry filled with almond paste or persipan

      Marzipan?

      • Aapje says:

        No. Marzipan is 1 part almonds to 3-4 parts powdered sugar. Almond paste (‘amandelspijs’ = literally almond spice) is 1 part almonds to 1 part granulated sugar. This makes the latter less sweet and gives it a rougher texture. Marzipan is better alone or paired with pure chocolate, while almond paste pairs well with puff pastry or fruited Christmas bread. For example, a very popular Christmas treat is a yeast-based bread, with dried fruits, raisins and currants, lemon and orange zest, water, milk, butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon (and optionally, nuts). The center of the bread is filled with almond paste. See here. Some people smear the almond paste over the bread before eating it, while others prefer not to do so.

        Apricot or peach kernels can be used to replace the almonds in both marsipan and almond paste. I’ve only heard the latter called ‘banketbakkersspijs’ (= literally pastry chef spice), which is the Dutch word for persipan, although technically the marzipan-variant is also persipan.

        It’s all an abomination unto the Lord, of course. Only the real spice unlocks prescience, while no person of taste and sophistication wants the Wannabe spice.

    • Robin says:

      Is “chocoladeletters” the same as “koienletters” (cow letters)? I learned that expression from the song about how difficult it is to stay humble, if your name is printed on billboards in cow letters.

      I like the irony that this singer is now living humbly on the Shetland Islands and leading a shanty choir.

      A slightly different form of letter-shaped pastry is known as Russian Bread.

      • Aapje says:

        ‘Koeienletters’ isn’t restricted to newspaper and doesn’t have the political connotations. It is a more generic term for big letters.

  6. Thomas says:

    Ban them all. Moderation is the key to success.

    • Vitor says:

      … Tom said indefinitely

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      “Moderation in all things. Especially moderation.”

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        I’d like to argue for second-order extremism–either completely moderate moderation, or completely extreme moderation, I don’t care which!

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          Beginning to think Roman Hruska was a man before his time.

        • b_jonas says:

          For readers who don’t remember, this references Scott’s 2018 fiction short story “https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/09/12/in-the-balance/”

  7. Pandemic Shmandemic says:

    Incidentally noticed that this comment which got its author banned

    Replies to a comment linking to an archive.is snapshot of a purported medium post by Tara Reade, praising Putin.

    The date of the post reads Dec 17 2018 while at the bottom of the page it says that the author is a “Medium member since Mar 2019”

    How many levels of shenanigans do we have going here ? Has this been pursued elsewhere ?

  8. Aapje says:

    I should have used ‘the’ as my username. I would be unbannable, other than by nuking the blog by banning the word ‘the.’

    • Vitor says:

      banning the username ‘the the’, on the other hand, would reduce the background paranoia I experience when I’m here by at least 8%.

    • meh says:

      How will people express snarky indifference should I end up on the list?

  9. Anteros says:

    I’m somewhat surprised by the ban-fest. Sad, actually, as quite a few of the banees are commenters I enjoy reading. And the vast majority of the time I think they (EchoC and HBC in particular) are extremely civil.

    However, the reason I spend more of my time reading SSC than anything else is because of the culture of civility, and anything that moves the commenting in that direction is to the good.

    ETA I’ve just read all the examples of comments that led to the bans – much less surprised now. I guess I don’t get involved in US political conversations, which seem like the place where the problems erupt.
    Also, it occurred to me that the commenters who were banned were those who only inhabited open threads, rather than people who respond to Scott’s posts. That also makes the banning more understandable.
    Still sad, tho’..

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Yeah, pretty much my reaction as well, including double back after reading the comments. I will miss those people, tho. Wish the bans would be a bit shorter (maybe a bit more frequent as well?).

      I was quite surprised to see there posts that are a few years old. Makes me a lot more paranoid about what I write. As, I guess, it should be.

      • Anteros says:

        I agree about shorter bans, and maybe more frequent.

        And yes to the paranoia about old comments!

      • Lambert says:

        +1

        I’m not a psychologist, but last time I checked, operant conditioning worked best when the stimuli were small, frequent and immediate.
        But I get that this is more work for Scott.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Well, he said a couple of times that moderating isn’t a huge amount of work, and also just said that he’d like to ban more people so… win-win? And yeah, was also thinking of operant conditioning. I think there’s some research specific to punishments as well, and time+consistency matter a lot more than intensity.

          • Aapje says:

            He has indicated that moderating is extremely mentally taxing for him. So doing it frequently is exactly what he doesn’t want.

        • noyann says:

          Scott may be aiming at a variable ratio schedule:

          Reinforcement occurs after a variable number of responses have been emitted since the previous reinforcement. This schedule typically yields a very high, persistent rate of response.

          (Wikipedia)

    • matkoniecz says:

      And I want to register support for moderation, especially for a transparent moderation. Hopefully I am not posting anything against rules and bannable, this would be ironic.

      But looking through a linked content I am not surprised by bans.

      My favorite is probably

      Nothing will ever get between me and an honest answer to a question asked in good faith, and I don’t care what the rules are around here.

      (not linked directly, but next to linked)

      • Enkidum says:

        Yeah that was the one that really amazed me didn’t lead to an insta-permaban (but of course that would require Scott to be constantly on the lookout for such things and I think he does not want that). Of course I’m biased, given that comment was in response to me.

    • Garrett says:

      I’m somewhat saddened to see HBC gone for so long. The commentariat is well-served (IMHO) with solid left-wing representation. I wish we had more so the work could be spread among more.

    • Randy M says:

      Also, it occurred to me that the commenters who were banned were those who only inhabited open threads, rather than people who respond to Scott’s posts

      Hey , I resemble that remark. In my case, and probably others, it isn’t that I don’t read Scott’s posts, but I try to keep the signal to noise ratio higher on those and if I have nothing to say other than my uninformed opinion, I don’t want to post.

      But it is a good point–I value open threads to have somewhere to ask questions of interesting and usually pretty well informed people. But for Scott, they are mostly there (it seems to me) as a place to keep discussions he’s less interested in away from his main threads.

      • Enkidum says:

        if I have nothing to say other than my uninformed opinion, I don’t want to post.

        *stares uncomfortably into the middle distance*

        • Randy M says:

          No call-outs, that’s not a universal policy with me either. More of a tendency.

          • Enkidum says:

            Justin case it’s not clear, that was meant as self-deprecating..

            But it is a good point–I value open threads to have somewhere to ask questions of interesting and usually pretty well informed people. But for Scott, they are mostly there (it seems to me) as a place to keep discussions he’s less interested in away from his main threads.

            This is a good point. I try to post in response to main posts, but I’m sure >90% is on OTs. But of course for Scott the purpose of this blog is the main posts. Which must make policing the OTs extra frustrating.

  10. SamChevre says:

    Who are these people, anyway? Amish, Mennonites, Amish-Mennonites, and etc–an not-quite-effortpost.

    Vocabulary first:
    Anabaptist is a broad religious group, of which the Amish are one component. “Anabaptist” (re-baptizer) is a name that Reformation-era state churches used to describe their adult-baptizing opponents, and at the time included multitudes—including, for example, Jan van Leyden (look him up–one of the craziest figures in a crazy era). In today’s religious landscape, that original description would include Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and most charismatic churches, as well as Amish and Mennonites. But today, Anabaptist is almost always used to refer to the subset of adult-baptizing churches that believe in non-resistance (refusing to use deadly force even when attached) and a strong avoidance of involvement with the state, summed up in the Schleitheim Confession. I will use it in that sense in the rest of this post.

    The Schleitheim Confession is short—I strongly recommend reading it. But at least,note this key line from the 4th article:
    “This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk in the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves with God so that they wish to do His will, are a great abomination before God, it is not possible for anything to grow or issue from them except abominable things.”
    That understanding of the world is pervasive and fundamental to Anabaptist worldviews–it’s very different from the “He shines in all that’s fair” of more typical Christian understandings.

    Within the Anabaptist world, there are two overlapping sets of categories.

    The first set are group names based on history and geography—there are 4 major groups:
    The Amish—named for the leader Jacob Amman, from what’s now the Rhineland in Germany. Strict shunning (the “Streng Meidung”) is distinctively Amish. The Amish generally wear beards without mustaches, and don’t wear clothes with patterns.
    The (Dutch/Swiss) Mennonites—named for Menno Simons, from the Netherlands (including what’s now Belgium and some parts of north-west Germany) and Switzerland. If you meet Mennonites in the US, east of the Mississippi, they are likely to be from this group. Mennonites are generally clean-shaven, and permit patterned clothes.
    The “Russian” Mennonites—from the same Netherlands area as the Dutch Mennonites. They fled to the Vistula Delta (present-day Gdansk in Poland) in the late 1500’s, and fled from there to the Crimea in the late 1700’s. They fled Russia in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, mostly to the US and Canada. In the anti-German mood after the First World War, Canada forbade schooling in German, and a large group (40,000 or so) moved to Mexico. If you meet Mennonites in the US West of the Mississippi, or in Mexico or Canada, they are likely from this group.
    The Hutterites – named for Jakob Hutter- are the fourth group. They are originally from Moravia, and unlike the rest of the Anabaptist groups are communal—the group, rather than individuals, owns property.
    Since all these groups except Hutterites have the same fundamental set of beliefs, there are many, many groups that have a mixture of practices most typically associated with a group with a different name, and many churches that are described as “Amish-Mennonite”. For example, I grew up in a church that was called Mennonite, but only wore solid-colored clothes and practiced strict shunning. (I left 20+ years ago and am now Catholic, but my parents and several siblings are still Plain.)

    The second set of categories has to do with governance and level of assimilation. Some Anabaptists groups have a church rule (“standard” in English, “Ordnung” in German). It will typically include rules for clothes, accessories (whether and which wristwatches are permitted is a perennial hot topic), acceptable occupations, and so on. Groups with a standard are “Plain”; think of “Plain” as the opposite of “assimilated” and you’ll be approximately correct. Sociologically, Plain/not-Plain is a much more important distinction than Mennonite/Amish. Some Plain churches are “Old Order” (probably the single most misunderstood and misused name; Old Order is a set of beliefs about salvation, and doesn’t really say anything about level of conservatism in clothing.) (Very roughly, Old Order groups have a view of salvation that is similar to that of Catholics, based on sacraments and being part of the church; New Order group have an understanding that is closer to that of Baptists, based more on experience and focusing on the New Birth.)

    Useful resources:
    Levi’s Will is a great book about a man who leaves the Amish, with snapshots over the years as he visits them. The main character is roughly based on the author’s father.
    Most Plain groups use the Dordrecht Confession as their official statement of belief.
    A fairly typical Amish-Mennonite standard is here. Other things on the same site are also interesting.
    The Martyr’s Mirror is a book about martyrs; the “Old Book” is a collection of trial transcripts and letters from prisoners. It’s read and studied a lot. I recommend the interrogation transcript from Jacob the Chandler.

    • SamChevre says:

      Governance in the Plain world:

      There are three key topics

      1) Who is in charge of what?
      2) What are the typical rules, and how do they change
      3) How does decision-making work

      The Plain world is centrally congregational, and congregational leadership is almost always plural: a congregation (“church”) typically has a bishop and at least one deacon, and often has a “minister” or two as well. The group of ordained men is the “ministry”, and all ordained men are referred to as “ministers” if their exact role is not important in contact. The ministry are not paid, and not specially trained.

      Because governance is mostly congregational, details vary a lot. The rest of this is models I’m familiar with, and to the extent I know about others that are importantly different I’ve noted this.

      Churches will be grouped, and there are three basic sorts of groups. “Conferences” have substantial decision-making power; a change in practice will be made at the conference level, and churches do not get to opt in or out unless they choose to leave the conference altogether. Looser-but-still tight affiliations (often called “fellowships”) will have a specific set of rules that are required for participating churches, and ministers from all the churches will meet regularly to discuss issues and make any modifications to the required rules. The loosest affiliations have ministers meetings, but no decisions are made there—the decisions are entirely congregational and there are no firm boundaries on affiliation.

      In general, changing the rules takes substantial agreement; keeping them the same is the default. In the churches I grew up in, all the ministry had to agree with a change before it could be brought up for a vote; a 2/3 vote was required to actually make a change. The difficulty of changing rules encourages splinter groups—a new group starts from a blank slate, and so substantial changes are easier to make when a group is new. A typical set of topics and positions from a middle-or-the-road conservative Amish-Mennonite church is linked above.

      Who gets to decide what is a hot topic—the churches I grew up in were blown up when I was a pre-schooler in a quarrel over exactly what things took a vote, and people were still very clear on their positions 20 years later when I left. But the common picture of the bishop as dictator is fairly inaccurate; in most churches, the bishop can at most enforce things that have already been decided (and may need something close to consensus even to do that—that’s a topic that varies between churches.)

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        How does the whole “no technology” deal fit into this?

        • SamChevre says:

          Mostly accidentally.

          The church gets to make rules, and in general something new has to be allowed to be permitted under those rules. And being more connected to the world is seen as a bad thing unless absolutely necessary. So there’s a default to not changing, and a skepticism of connective technologies–when you look at what’s restricted, it’s transportation and communication primarily.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m glad to answer questions, but I’m starting a new job today, so answers may be delayed.

      • johan_larson says:

        Were the Plain in the United States fully exempt from the draft? I have to believe this caused some sort of tensions, since the government was really panting for labor in the later stages of WWII, sometimes going so far as drafting illiterates and encouraging some disabled men to serve.

        • SamChevre says:

          Very quick answer: in WW2, yes–there was alternative service for committed conscientious objectors. (About a third of participants in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment were Plain.) In WW1, there was not–and the Plain world still remembers the Hofer brothers as martyrs.

        • ConstantConstance says:

          I appreciate SamChevre’s historical post. Again, my church is not plain, but there are a few things I can address. Yes, there was resentment against Mennonites during WW2. Many men worked in hospital settings, as orderlies, janitors, or maintenance workers. They weren’t just let off the hook. Some of the work they undertook was very unpleasant, but they weren’t looking to avoid unpleasantness, they just didn’t want to kill others.

        • Many men worked in hospital settings, as orderlies, janitors, or maintenance workers.

          The Amish observed that young men who were sent to empty bedpans in urban hospitals, rooming with non-Amish, dating nurses, quite often did not stay Amish when it was over. They eventually got the IRS to agree that their conscientious objectors could do their war service growing food on farms run by Mennonites.

    • One minor detail. There were two Amish migrations to the U.S., one of German speakers and a later one, in the 19th century, of speakers of a Swiss-German dialect. The former group now use Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect that originated in America, as their home language, the others use a Swiss-German dialect.

    • SamChevre says:

      Theology is not a huge concern–the focus is more on doing God’s will than on making a coherent framework for thinking about God. I’d say the average 12-year-old could explain how their faith is different, but the explanation would be about separation and non-resistance, not about sacramental economy or natural law. The religious education is very Bible-focused; this differs a lot between groups though. I grew up reading and studying the Bible, memorizing a verse or so a day throughout school, and listening to the adults discuss it at church for an hour or so a week. But in some communities, especially the more traditional ones, the Bible is in German–Luther’s German–and people speak Pennsylvania Dutch or Plautdietsch (Russian Mennonites) or Hutterisch and find it very difficult to read and make sense of the Bible. That’s too far from my experience for me to say how education works there.

      For Amish and Mennonites excluding the Russian Mennonites, there’s a central body of texts; I’m not sure about Russian Mennonites and Hutterites. Centrally, these are the confessions of faith and martyr stories – especially the Dordrecht Confession and the Martyr’s Mirror. Newer texts sort of become broadly accepted over time–but since they’re often written deliberately to take sides in some quarrel, that happens very slowly and is rarely universal.

      Anabaptists are sometimes Arminian, sometimes Catholic–but never Reformed–it’s all about choosing to obey God and be part of his people. Predestination is understood as foreknowledge rather than constraint, falling away is considered a real possibliity.

      I don’t think that there’s ever been an Anabaptist society–the worldview is so focused on being an odd minority that I think that would be seen as a nonsensical idea. The closest would be the Russian Mennonite community in Mexico–but even there, they weren’t a government. The complete refusal to use force really makes it impossible for them to survive without a government of which they are not part.

      Debates about matters of practice tend to be a mixture of practical (we can’t keep being dairy farmers without bulk tanks) and political. Very often, a debate over what should be allowed is proxying a debate over what kinds of lives are best–for example, in the churches I grew up in, there was one group that was more restrictive of farm equipment, and one that was more restrictive of crew sizes for construction. This reflected a differing judgment about whether farming was ideal or tended to tie people down too much.

      • disluckyperson says:

        This is fascinating. What is the education for bishops and ministers? I remember taking an Amish tour and being told their education only went up to 8th grade. Is this true? If so, what sort of advanced education do the bishops and ministers get, and where and how does it take place?

        • For the Amish, there is no special education, and they are selected by God.

          Someone is nominated for the clergy by members of the congregation — I think it’s common to require two people to nominate him. From among those nominated, the choice is random, by lot. It’s a lifetime, unpaid appointment.

          I believe that is true for all three levels, including the Bishop.

        • SamChevre says:

          On education and selection of leaders, I’ll speak for the group I know; the process is similar, but not identical, in other groups. It’s a selection process, not an educational one.

          First note, though: self-education is normal across domains in the Plain world. An eighth-grade education is enough to read and do most practical math, and with those tools you can learn nearly anything. Plain people with 8th-grade educations regularly get electrician’s licenses, build and run multi-million dollar businesses, and so on.

          Being a participating church member serves partly as training for ordained ministry: all the men take turns leading discussions at Bible study, preaching short sermons (“devotions”) at events like singings, and so on. By the time someone would be considered for ordination, everyone would have a good sense for how they think about religious topics, how clearly and helpfully they explain them, and so on. Criteria for ordination also include running your own life well across domains–a happy marriage, well-behaved children, good judgment in work and business, etc.

          The process is multi-stage:
          Before starting, decide that an ordination would be a good idea for the community. This generally means that things are relatively peaceful, there are several plausible candidates for ordination, and it would be helpful to have more ordained men.
          Then, to start, review the criteria–preach through the Timothy and Titus passages. This is usually done by a visiting bishop (it takes two bishops to ordain a minister, three to ordain a bishop). Deacons and ministers are chosen from the congregation, bishops from the ministers and deacons.
          Then, take nominations; it always takes at least 2 nominations for someone to be a candidate. This is done orally, one at a time, to the ministry as a group. ETA: each person gets one nomination, and can decline to nominate anyone. (Things that differ: do women nominate or not? Do the ordained men have the ability to make nominations? Is the number increased above 2–if so, it’s announced beforehand, and is often around 20% of the number of nominations available? Do the ordained men have to announce as candidates everyone who is sufficiently nominated, or can they veto nominations.) After all the nominations have been made, the candidates are announced publicly.
          Next the candidates are examined privately, by the ministry–that’s mostly in my understanding about alignment with the church, any issues in the marriage that might not be apparent, and so forth. Someone can disqualify themselves, or be determined to not be qualified by the ministry.
          Next there’s a meeting just of voting members excepting candidates, in which each remaining candidate is voted on. This is an approval vote, not a preference vote. The threshold varies–it can be as low as 2/3 approval, but it’s desirable and typical for the vote to be near-unanimous.
          If there are still multiple candidates, the choice among the candidates is made by lot–typically, a slip of paper with the lot verse (Proverbs 16:33) is put in one of a stack of identical Bibles or hymnals outside the building by one person, another person retrieves the books, and a third person arranges them. Each candidate picks up a book, and whoever gets the one with the paper is chosen.

      • SamChevre says:

        One thing I’d note: the original conflict was mostly doctrinal, but the doctrinal questions were very practical–how should church and state relate, what should membership in the church mean, and should Christians use force in any way.

        But the ideology is not the movement. And also, that completely unacceptable theology tended to mean that Anabaptist groups were located in peripheries, and that had a substantial impact as well.

      • Gnecht says:

        I don’t think that there’s ever been an Anabaptist society… The closest would be the Russian Mennonite community in Mexico…

        The Russian Mennonite communities in Belize might come closer. I gather these have handled taxation and road construction internally.

        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonites_in_Belize

        Law enforcement is the show-stopper. To be consistent with their faith, they’d have to hire that out to non-members. And, if the non-members convert to the Anabaptist community, they’d have to leave their law enforcement jobs. A revolving door of sorts could be required.

        Anabaptists aren’t alone in noticing some inherent problems with this situation. Charles Colson wrote an entire book on this subject, “Kingdoms In Conflict,” that seems trying to justify Evangelical-types having to compromise their faith in order to maintain their political position. Anabaptist communities like these would probably take the opposite position, and just say that a government leader who converts to their faith would have to resign.

        One way of explaining the “Two Kingdoms” teachings behind Anabaptist communities like these is that their ideal is being an earthly embassy of Heaven. And most countries don’t expect their ambassadors to join up with their receiving nation’s governments or militaries, but only be outside observers and represent the interests of their sending nation.

    • bullseye says:

      I saw that the Hutterites are from Moravia and wondered if they were the same as the Moravians who founded half of Winston-Salem NC. I looked it up, and no, they’re a completely different denomination from the same place. The Moravian Church aren’t Anabaptist, not even in the broader sense.

    • RC2020 says:

      Sorry I’m late commenting, but I only saw this thread today. While they might not necessarily count as a ‘major group’, I think that the plain Brethren groups descended from the Schwarzenau Brethren are worth mentioning. Originating in the village of the same name in southwest Germany near the beginning of the 18th century, the Schwarzenau Brethren fused Anabaptist and Pietist ideas. They came to America in the early 18th century, around the same time as the Amish and Swiss Mennonites, and like them settled in Pennsylvania and spoke Pennsylvania German, though all Brethren groups, even the plain ones, now speak only English.
      In the 19th century, there were splits in the faith, resulting in three factions: traditionalist, moderate and progressive. The groups descended from the traditionalist faction are still plain, as are the Dunkard Brethren, an offshoot of the Church of the Brethren, descended from the moderate faction. The largest church descended from the progressive faction is The Brethren Church.
      Most of the plain Brethren groups are car-driving, though there are a couple of horse-and-buggy groups. The largest plain Brethren group is the Old German Baptist Brethren. OGBB men’s dress is very like that of the Amish, and they also usually wear beards. The most noticeable difference appears to be in hairstyle, as they tend to wear their hair brushed back from the forehead, unlike the Amish bowl cut.
      Women’s dress is more distinctive, as they wear a shoulder cape, similar to the pellegrina worn by senior Catholic clergy, over their dresses, rather than having the cape pinned or sewn to the waist of the dress, as Amish and Mennonite women wear. Their head covering is also distinct, a translucent stiff cap that covers the ears and is tied tightly under the chin.
      Another distinctive practice is that children and unbaptized teenagers do not dress plainly, though from the pictures I’ve seen, young girls do not wear trousers and do not keep their hair shorter than shoulder length.
      As far as I’m aware, all plain Brethren groups have a similar dress code, except for the Dunkard Brethren, who dress more like conservative Mennonites, with men being clean-shaven, and women wearing a Mennonite-style head covering and cape dress.

      • SamChevre says:

        Thank you! I’m aware that the Brethren exist, but I don’t know enough to say anything useful about them (although they dress distinctively–I can easily identify the Dunkard girl in this video, for example.)

  11. bernie638 says:

    I have a bit of a cautionary tale for people who are putting a lot of faith in the “test and trace” path to normalization.

    I work for a GiantCorp, but I’m not a manager or a supervisor or anything like that, and they don’t pay me to say nice things about them (they might stop paying me if I said negative things in which case I’d follow my mother’s advice and stay silent). Anyway, I do have good things to say about them. The company really has done a lot right for dealing with the virus. They have everyone who can telecommute doing that, they are continuing to pay anyone with the virus to stay at home and not counting it against regular sick time, all that stuff. This company is really on top of things, the day that all the news reported that the CDC was rumored to be changing the recommendation from no masks to yes masks, they gave everyone on site a cloth mask. Not an N95, just a regular one, but still, they were far enough ahead to get them ordered and delivered before the policy changed.

    The part I work at is a massive construction project that is considered critical infrastructure so we are still working. This project alone is the largest single employer in the state, and they have a lot of money in getting it finished. They set up a medical village in the parking lot with 10 trailers staffed 24/7 and are offering free urgent care type stuff for everyone who works on site, contractors included. They can test for flu and strep here, but still have to send off the covid tests, but they pay a company to do them so they get a one or two day result. Anyone suspected of having the virus is paid to sit at home until they get a negative result along with anyone who was in close proximity to them. It started getting about 10 people quarantined for every positive case, but that’s gotten a little better so it’s down to averaging five extra quarantined for each positive. Basically, test and track that is being talked about, and yes, they are also testing the close proximity people too.

    Still, with everything they’ve done, we are still getting quite a few people infected with Covid. We went from one to 50 in two weeks, and it’s still been rising, but a little slower, two more weeks and we now have almost 200 total, although 100 of those are “recovered and allowed to come back to work “.

    True, we don’t have any fancy cell phone app, but most of the workers don’t carry a cell phone around with them in the construction area, not a safe place for very expensive pocket computers.

    One thing that should have been obvious, but I didn’t think about it was that even a relatively low number of people with the virus really has a major impact on getting anything done. I initially thought that having one percent of the work force quarantined for having or being near someone with the virus would cause a one percent slow down. Nope, turns out that the people who are generally in close spaces are the people that work with them, so when an Iron Worker gets the virus, you quarantine most of the other Iron Workers and now you can’t get the rebar in and can’t pour concrete for at least two weeks. If you have a Pipefitter get it, you lose a bunch of Pipefitters and that work needed to be done before you install the HVAC underneath the pipes in the overhead. Progress has really slowed down.

    This is just my experience, but if you are under the impression that “test and trace ” will allow everything to get back to normal, you might want to consider making a contingency plan.

    • eric23 says:

      You’re describing “test and trace” in the context of a workplace. In the context of a family or school or social circle, there is not the dependence you describe.

      Since your workplace is doing “test and trace” but not the rest of society, you are going to keep having infections from outside, indefinitely. But if all of society did “test and trace”, that wouldn’t be a problem.

      • bernie638 says:

        Until this week everyone was social distancing so I’m not really sure how much people are getting infected from outside. I think a lot of the non-essential business that open back up we have similar problems and not all of them are going to be as competent as my employer.

        I don’t know how many other businesses are trying to test and trace, I don’t think the restaurants that are open for drive thru or takeout are testing their employees, and if they did then I’m not sure they would be open. I would guess that if a cook gets the virus they would have to quarantine most of the cooks and shut down for two weeks, ect.

        Right now I think that the few places that are open are operating with an attitude that ignorance is bliss and get away with it because they employ mostly young people.

        I’m thinking that a society wide test and trace will look very similar to the current situation with a lot of places shut down rather than a return to something similar to the pre-virus days. Possibly worse, I guess the meat processing plants are going to keep working, but the non-essential places are going to have to worry about their own employees AND the supply chain inputs to their business. If the textile plant shuts down, is the designer clothing store going to stay open? Bad example I’m sure, but that’s not my area of expertise. I’m not really familiar with how much inventory is stored and how long the retail face of things can stay open if the supplier is shut down for two weeks every other month.

        • eric23 says:

          Not everyone is actually social distancing – we know that because the number of cases is not actually dropping 🙁

          (Unlike in almost every European country, where the number of cases has been dropping for weeks, starting 10-14 days after the lockdown started. In some the drop is really fast like Austria, in some it’s slower like Italy.)

          • mitv150 says:

            I have seen some interesting evidence suggesting that different countries with different degrees of lockdown, quarantine, social distancing, etc., still have remarkably similar patterns in progression of coronavirus cases.

            I’d also suggest that the flatness of the U.S. curve is due to the fact that the U.S. should not be treated as a single entity when compared to, for example, Italy. The U.S. is much more like a collection of individual outbreaks, each with it’s own curve. Adding those curves up leaves U.S. with a flat line currently, because some are increasing and some are decreasing.

          • noyann says:

            In retrospect from case numbers, the social distancing in Germany, had already reduced R before the lockdowns began. Conveniently ignored by lockdown opponents.

          • mitv150 says:

            @noyann – Can you elaborate?

            Wouldn’t the position of lockdown opponents be: “social distancing is working, see that R is being reduced, why do we need lockdowns?”

          • bernie638 says:

            Maybe so. Though all the non-essential business have been shut down throughout this period. I’m just giving my example of a place trying to make the test and trace system work and the number of cases isn’t dropping and it’s causing major problems. None of the excuses apply here, there are enough tests for anyone who feels ill, and quite a bit of incentive to get tested, every close contact is quarantined and tested, we all have masks (though not 100% usage since some jobs aren’t compatible with masks). If you’re counting on test and trace to get everything open again, you may be right, but you may be wrong too. Just start thinking about what happens if test and trace doesn’t work well enough. What’s the next move?

          • MilesM says:

            The numbers in NYC – cases, hospitalizations and deaths – have dropped massively.

            On the other hand, NY state as a whole is lagging behind the city, but the numbers are also IIRC declining.

            I think that as mitv150 suggests, the overall shape of the curve has to do with individual cities and states peaking at different times.

            Also, the rate of testing has gone up significantly over the past month. (although it’s still not high enough, and may be plateauing or dropping again)

          • noyann says:

            EDIT: minor stuff

            @mitv150

            “social distancing is working, see that R is being reduced, why do we need lockdowns?”

            The voluntary distancing was not enough. Its effects were fading (the R curve cited below was flattening), and fear of an exponential growth getting out of control because people would become reckless was not unsubstantiated.

            The registered cases are here (1st graph, log scale) and the estimations for R of that time here (1st graph). Later Rs are here (scroll down to graph “Coronavirus Ansteckungsrate”).

            The “Limitation of social contacts”[*] was issued on March 22, later extended until May 3.
            April 10: Quarantaine for returning travellers. April 15: “Urgent recommendation” for community masks”.

            Before the “Limitation…”, the infections had already spread and had become more homogenously distributed (absolute cases/calendar week in the federal countries) — voluntary distancing was not enough.

            Germany currently hovers a little under R=1, but before concluding that this looks all nice and harmless, please keep in mind that, should R go up to 1.2, Germany’s hospitals will be overwhelmed some time in June, despite efforts to ramp up ICU capacity. Getting there from ~0.8 (last week) is dangerously easy as we see more threadbare nerves and hear/read more opportunistic emotion wave surfers. OTOH, shops are allowed to open today in an attempt to salvage of the economy as much as possible and reach a feeling of ‘normality’.

            [*] The word ‘lockdown’ for Germany is out of proportion for this (not available in English?); I would reserve such an expression for Wuhan style measures.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            When bernie describes a pretty good test-and-trace system, and how it doesn’t work, it doesn’t seem useful to say “well, yes, but that wasn’t real test-and-trace. When we actually do it right, it will work.”

            And I am a big proponent of test-and-trace! When faced with an issue, we have to figure out the problem, not insist there isn’t a problem.

          • albatross11 says:

            If R dropped a great deal without the lockdown because people were avoiding public places like restaurants, bars, and theaters, then it’s quite possible that the lockdowns were unnecessary, but it’s also clear that ending the lockdowns won’t breathe life back into those restaurants and bars and such. I’m not sure how many restaurants can survive indefinitely on, say, 25-50% of their normal custom, but quite a lot of them probably can’t.

          • eric23 says:

            ^ And if restaurant owners are allowed to open but get minimal customers, then they won’t even get unemployment benefits. Making the economic situation for them worse rather than better.

          • eric23 says:

            mitv150, a quick glance at your article shows it to be horribly bad research, not worth the paper it could be printed on. I mean they couldn’t even think to use a logarithmic scale for their exponential growth graphs. And their percentage graph is about the worst way of presenting the information, and is also misinterpreted. If I were a college professor and my student wrote this paper for me, I’d maybe give it a C.

          • noyann says:

            @albatross11
            If R dropped a great deal without the lockdown [ … ] , then it’s quite possible that the lockdowns were unnecessary

            If you look only at the numbers, maybe. In favor of your opinion: Robert-Koch-Institute estimated that R would even decrease further, but for the beginning outbreaks in nursing and retirement homes that bent the R curve toward horizontal (and would/will get worse, imo).

            But then there are considerations outside epidemiological numbers. After the initial alarm reaction and a basic orientation people will get used to the new normal, they adapt, become lazy and sloppy, explore available openings, get stressed, and ignore caution. That the real R can’t be reasonably certain until at least a week later means a lack of immediate feedback that further degrades discipline. So does a danger that is invisible and that many expect to cause a merely minor illness.

            And so does the difficulty to comprehend exponential growth, for most of the population. A runaway EG would be a catastrophe, for public health and/or the economy, that could only be fought with a Wuhan style lockdown. Try that on a whole Western liberal country, with a population that already chafes under “social distancing”… Not going to work.

            No, looking beyond the numbers and taking into account the severity of a failure, I think not taking any chances has been the most reasonable decision.

            All the above applies to a situation of high uncertainty, in which inevitable errors were/are being/will be made, but so far I see them in the details, not in the strategy.

          • After the initial alarm reaction and a basic orientation people will get used to the new normal, they adapt, become lazy and sloppy, explore available openings, get stressed, and ignore caution.

            That can go either way. Getting used to the new normal may mean finding ways of functioning better within it, so having less reason to violate it.

            To take a minor real world example, one consequence of social distancing was that I couldn’t do my South Bay meetups. So I went looking for an online equivalent and discovered Mozilla Hubs, which is a pretty good online tool for the sort of casual socializing (as opposed to the one to many interaction Zoom is designed for) that we do at meetups. A pattern is beginning to develop, because of someone else’s organizing, of online SSC meetups on Hubs, which have the advantage of eliminating the geographical constraints of a real world meetup. They may end up as a superior substitute, and are clearly a good enough substitute to reduce my desire to be able to again do meetups in realspace.

          • noyann says:

            @DavidFriedman

            After the initial alarm reaction

            That can go either way. Getting used to the new normal may mean finding ways of functioning better within it, so having less reason to violate it.

            Fair point.

            We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. The current policy allows local and country authorities to adjust rules as they see fit; that should give a better overall outcome than one-size-fits-only-a-few strategies. Foreseeably, a few cries for ‘justice’ will flare up, and the (few, I expect) grossly misguided decision makers will see the results right in their electorate.

            The tightrope dance becomes fractal.

    • bernie638 says:

      OBTW, this is in a very rural area in the south where it’s nice and warm so we really have a lot of advantages. If anywhere could make this work it should be here.

      I didn’t really comprehend how specialized everyone has become. People aren’t interchangeable anymore. We have I&C techs who get additional training on specific pieces of equipment and it’s a very small group. If they get quarantined then no one is prepared to take their place as an example. Rumor today is that we just quarantined almost all of our REDACTED group which is going to throw the schedule for the next two weeks in the round file.

      For you youngins, imagine if your college implements this system. You have one person in your class who gets this virus and ten people in the class who sit near them or studied near them are quarantined for two weeks. Remember, most of the quarantined people DON’T get the virus at that time. Everyone comes back, and a week or two later someone else in that group gets the virus and everyone in that group is quarantined again, rinse and repeat. Do you bother even trying to teach the class?

      Long long ago when I was young, I worked at the beloved Toys R Us stocking shelves for the holidays. Even that was somewhat specialized, I had no idea how to work the cash register and those people didn’t know anything about the inventory storage arrangement. It wouldn’t take a long time to train a replacement, but it wouldn’t be a same day seamless turnover either.

      Never forget that humans are going to act like humans. They get forgetful and sloppy even with a lot of reminders about maintaining distance and having good intentions, they tend to cluster. You can’t hand wave that away and assume everyone stays six feet apart and have a successful plan.

      That reminds me, If I understand it correctly, the six foot directive is because gravity still works on the virus infused moisture that a person exhales. Within six feet it all falls to the ground unless they are yelling or sneezing or something. HOWEVER, that assumes that you are on the same elevation and stationary. Is there a safe distance from someone exhaling virus above you? I’m picturing a cone shaped infection area, at some point it’s diluted enough to be safe, but is six feet horizontally under someone 10 feet above you, say a balcony one up and one over safe? I also saw someone post a picture of their local walking track where the local government had put up a poster directing people to stay single file at six foot increments. The internet was so people could maintain that six foot separation while passing in the opposite direction. Seems to me like a bad idea, after all, jogging six feet behind means you are in the airspace of the person ahead of you before the virus falls to the ground. People like simple rules like six feet, but don’t really understand why and when that should be adjusted.

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, today I have to do an inspection at a dam, and I can tell already the social distancing requirements will make it a phenomenal pain in the ass.

        A really efficient way to inspect, say, a gate for a regulating outlet is for two or three people to work together, where one person is doing the actual inspection, one person holding the light, and taking notes (sometimes it’s very wet with water spray and being right up on the gate while trying to write can be difficult). Then when you finish with one part, the other guy helps you move the ladder. You bang it out.

        Now, the tunnel you’re in is only about 6′ wide, so it’s basically impossible to socially distance while having assistance, so I have to do the whole thing myself. This is on top of the fact that while I was doing this, the hydraulic engineer would be doing his own inspection of both the gate lip and the other parts of the conduit. Now, not only do I have to do my part myself, all the disciplines have to do their inspections sequentially. What normally would have been a one-day inspection is expected to take two or two and a half days.

        • bernie638 says:

          Yuck. Don’t lose track of all the regular safety precautions either, confined space, air monitoring, LOTO, and buddy system. Stay both healthy and safe.

          • John Schilling says:

            +1. This is part of the difference between social distancing as a practical safety measure, and social distancing as a civic religion. As a practical safety measure, you look at the possibility of death due to being within 6′ of someone who might be an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier for a bit, and the possibility of death due to working effectively alone on a ladder in a dark, wet place, and maybe have your colleagues hold the ladder and the flashlight already. As a civic religion, social distancing is a Commandment and breaking your neck is an outside-context problem.

          • albatross11 says:

            Basically eveything that becomes a civic religion or moral imperitive stops being something you can reason about. So “wear a mask, keep 6 feet apart, wash your hands regularly” are all good general rules to limit spread, which don’t work everywhere and should be applied along with some common sense. But that’s not either compliance culture or moral imperative or civic religion culture.

        • eric23 says:

          That sounds like an “essential service” for which you shouldn’t socially distance if it affects the job quality.

          • CatCube says:

            @bernie638

            Yeah, we had all of that, radio contact with the confined space attendant, an air monitor, the works. Fall protection, too, since access is through a hatch in the roof, and it’s a 20-foot drop if you slip off the extension ladder they have put in there for access. Well, if you manage to slip off when finagling yourself through the 24″ hatch–whoever picked that dimension is my new archnemesis (curse you, W.E.D.!). I’ve been in other regulating outlet tunnels, and they never felt the need to make them so tight to get in or out–I had to do a dip to get my foot on the last rung coming up, because I couldn’t bring my foot up without my knee hitting the side of the hatch.

            And no worry about the lockout-tagout. The process approaches psychotic here. “We set the bulkhead to dewater the RO last night. Here’s our lockout points: we’ve locked out the pump for the gates you’ll be crawling under, as well as blocked them up.”

            “Cool. I’m severely allergic to being crushed by huge hydraulic machinery”

            “We’ve also tagged out the balancing valve for reflooding the conduit.”

            “Uh, OK, when we were chit-chatting before starting you told me that it was severely undersized, so it takes like three hours to fill the space, and that can only be done after closing the gates that you have tagged out, but better safe than sorry I guess.”

            “We also put a tag on the lifting cable for the bulkhead.”

            “That bulkhead can only be lifted under balanced head, which would require flooding the space through the severely-undersized balancing valve after closing the gates, so I’d be dead for like an hour before the crane could possibly budge that bulkhead, but sure, why the fuck not.”

            I didn’t say any of that, of course, but yeah, there are a lot of man-hours spent running around hanging and removing tags that probably don’t actually improve safety much, but those all technically control sources of dangerous energy.

            @eric23

            It’s not so much that it affects the quality, it just makes it take a lot longer and is therefore more expensive. It’s also not so much for me, or the other inspectors who came from the office out to the dam site. It’s meshing with the COVID-19 protections for the Project operating staff. I, or any of the other inspecting engineers, could be replaced and our work delayed/shifted to other personnel, etc. We’re there to provide oversight and general technical expertise, but nothing that couldn’t be replaced by somebody else, or even hiring an Architect/Engineering firm if push came to shove.

            The people who operate the dam are another matter. You have the maintenance staff and the powerplant operators, and there have to be asses in those seats 24/7/365. They also have to be familiar with that Project and it’s machinery and behavior in detail. There was a huge crack in Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River back in 2014 as their spillway tried to do a backflip into the tailrace. That wasn’t found by an engineer. It was found by a (IIRC) mechanic who was walking by and said “Huh, I don’t remember this handrail being bent.”

            If you get a bunch of these operators laid out by the ‘Rona, that’s a real problem, because you can’t swap out their very particularized knowledge the way you can my general knowledge of engineering. Dams don’t take being left to their own devices well–they have to be actively managed. So while the risk might be very small to me over a period of one day, being careless means a lot more to the guys who *don’t* normally sit at home in front of a computer working through the VPN.

            As it happens, though, we did decide after today that there wasn’t much incremental risk given the masks, gloves, and sanitization procedures, so we’re going to have two people doing the inspection for more efficiency tomorrow.

        • b_jonas says:

          Thank you for posting a specific case from your work. I’d like to hear more such interesting stories from commenters in various different jobs.

  12. johan_larson says:

    May the 4th be with you, everyone!

    Let’s use this day of days to pick through the dregs of the Star Wars franchise. What’s the worst film, TV series, game, novel, action figure, character, line, and whatever else we can think of in the published works of the franchise?

    Worst live action film? That would be either The Phantom Menace or The Last Skywalker. Anyone have a third option?

    Worst TV show? Anyone picking anything other than the Christmas special?

    • Lambert says:

      Worst game is probably that one where you have to pay for ‘a sense of pride and accomplishment’.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        No, you’ve got it all wrong. You had to play for ten hours to do that, you could pay to not earn a sense of a pride and accomplishment.

      • gbdub says:

        Battlefront II is actually a very good game, that got saddled by EA being greedy and trying to turn it into a $60 free-to-play.

        If you haven’t played it, it’s worth a second look. The vestiges of the loot box / pay to win system were impossible to fully eradicate, but they mostly cut them out and the gameplay itself is a lot of fun (especially the star fighter battles).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          +1. Yes, the Pride and Accomplishment comment got them thoroughly shellacked, so badly that all that lootbox stuff was taken out before launch. I’ve played since launch, and there’s never been pay-to-win possible*. It’s a very good game, and an excellent Star Wars experience.

          * for hyper-pedants, yes, you could buy the gold edition or whatever and get access to the game like 2 days early, and the lootboxes were there for that time, but were removed before the official launch.

        • Matt M says:

          I actually just started playing the campaign for this yesterday, as I noticed it is not available for free on Origin Access Basic. The graphics, at the very least, are amazing. I’m not a bug multiplayer guy but I plan on giving it a bit of a go.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Don’t get your hopes up for the campaign. It was something they basically put in so they could say “see, we have single-player, too!” Also so they could have a female dark-side hero (villain)*. The campaign is short (4-5 hours) and doesn’t go anywhere, but it is kind of an okay intro to the mechanics of the game. If you want a single-player Star Wars game, play Fallen Order.

          * Phasma wasn’t in at launch, and was added a few weeks later to coincide with the release of TLJ. Also, the Force Being Female and all, why don’t have a good female Sith antagonist in the movies yet? Like a sexy space witch who goes heavy into the manipulative aspects of the force. That would be cool.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve already played 4-5 hours and I’m not done yet, so you must be exaggerating!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Well bless your heart, enjoy your adventure.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Well bless your heart

            If Scott spoke Southern, you’d be cruising for a banning with language like that.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Shhhhhh! Don’t tell him!

            I kid, I kid. HLTB says it’s 6 hours. If it takes you much longer than that, well….

          • Matt M says:

            I finished last night. Including the bonus “Resurrection” campaign, I think in total it probably took me 10-12 hours. I died every once in awhile, but not too much.

            You can tell they didn’t put too much effort into it by the difficulty curve (or lack thereof). The mission I died the most often on was the very first one. I never died once in the final one.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I’m sure people could make a very salient, well structured argument that the Last Jedi torpedoed the series or is objectively the worst one of the sequels, but none of the sundry Star Wars content offends me on a level quite like Rise of Skywalker. It’s intertextual argument with Last Jedi may have set it up for failure but there’s so much else wrong with it whose fault lies nowhere else that I just can’t with it.

      Last Jedi also achieved the occasional visually interesting scenes, like the Argento-y throne room, the not-dagobah-cave-mirror-world, red hoth, or the universe-breaking-hyperdrive thing. Since Palpatine’s giant trapezoid is derivative of his previous giant prisms and spheres, I’ll only really give Rise of Skywalker the wireless long distance fight scene.

      I’m perhaps bitter because that movie dragged back Palpatine – the only person who knows what movie he’s in – and I felt rather squandered him and his meme potential.

      At least Carrie Fischer had a good time at the Christmas Special, though she doesn’t remember it.

      • smocc says:

        My favorite fact about The Rise of Skywalker is that the new small droid D-O was voiced by J J Abrams himself. For those who don’t remember D-O’s entire schtick was rolling into a scene and giving uttering a single word like “kind” when Rey helps it, or “sad” when Leia dies. That means the director of this movie put himself into the movie as a character to say out loud the emotion you are supposed to be feeling in all the scenes.

        With The Last Jedi at least there was a glimmer of something more interesting and intelligent under all the confusion.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          I’m reminded of Richard Ayoade’s On Top and his take on the narration in “View from the Top”:

          An in camera rebuff to the moronic maxim ‘Show, don’t tell’. It’s ‘Show and tell’, and we know this from school: if you ‘show’ and don’t ‘tell’, your teachers do not hail your visual virtuosity; they mention the lapse in your daybook.

          So J.J. Abrams has the same film sensibilities as a director who cast Gwyneth Paltrow as a girl from a trailer park.

          • albatross11 says:

            The only JJ Abrams movies I’ve seen were Star Trek and Star Wars reboots. I assume he must be more competent than he seems from those movies, or he wouldn’t have gotten those jobs.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I think that TLJ was, at its core, a really good movie — that got mashed together with a terrible one, then put through a blender until only faint glimpses of the truly interesting and original ideas remained. But I can still respect it for its unfulfilled potential.

        RoS, on the other hand, had no redeeming features. It was just a spaghetti-code hack on top of a previous hack, designed to get the story to at least compile and run once without crashing. It failed even at that.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        red hoth

        Wasn’t that the official name of Siberia from 1918-1991?

    • cassander says:

      Phantom menace as the most disappointing star wars movie, but attack of the clones was a worse film. The dialogue is worse, the plot goes nowhere, and the action was less novel.

      • Skeptic says:

        Worse dialogue?? Uhh we get an exposition on sand in a movie that cost $120 million to make /s

        I mean, there’s always a bigger fish

      • albatross11 says:

        The chemistry between them is approximately what you’d get if you cast a brother and sister as the romantic leads in a school play….

        • Lillian says:

          Hayden Christensen isn’t a bad actor either, he’s not great but he is competent. It’s just that Lucas doesn’t seem to have done any actual directing across the prequel trilogy, which is why the experienced actors tend to do well while the inexperienced ones failed and faltered.

          Then to add insult to injury, George Lucas somehow actually did manage to film a decent sequence building up Anakin and Padme’s romance. It shows the two of them with Padme’s family on Naboo, and not only is it not painful to watch, but they almost have chemistry together! You haven’t seen it because he cut it out of the damn movie. It’s as if when Lucas finished filming and started editing he looked at these scenes and then said to himself, “No that’s not unpleasant enough, it can’t go on my film, we’re going to for maximum cringe here.”

          I once watched what was actually a pretty damned good recut of the prequel trilogy into a single film of two hours and forty minutes. It starts with the duel at the end of TPM and ends with Darth Vader rising. My only real criticism is he cut it a bit too deep by excising Count Dooku almost entirely, as I think it would have been better if he’d let his cut run to three hours to keep ol’ Tyrannus in. Anyway, one of the most amazing parts about it is that with some rather clever editing, the guy behind it actually managed to make the Anakin-Padme romance work.

          What he did is he took the scenes with Padme’s family and cut them back into into the film, thereby clearly establishing that she and Anakin have feelings for each other. Then he cut out most of the dialogue in the subsequent scenes at the lake retreat, favouring instead poignant silences while they make eyes at each other. It was amazing how much better that was without having to add anything that wasn’t already filmed. Turns out the good material was there, Lucas just butchered it.

        • Aapje says:

          A lot of scenes were filmed in front of a green screen without props, which is very hard on actors.

          A fairly mediocre actor like Brendan Fraser seems to be very capable at acting without much context, which makes him a popular for movies with a lot of green screen. Andy Serkis is another example.

        • Telomerase says:

          Lillian (or anyone), what’s the best recut of Star Wars 1-3 on YouTube? TIA 😉

      • acymetric says:

        I guess somehow I am able to compartmentalize those terrible (I mean truly awful) romance scenes. I barely even remember them. I really enjoyed pretty much everything Obi-Wan was involved in in Attack of the Clones, and the banter between Dooku and Obi-Wan/Yoda/Anakin. That and the last 20 minutes or so of Revenge of the Sith are basically the only redeeming parts of the whole prequel trilogy (well, the lightsaber battle with Maul also, but that is the only decent thing to come out of Phantom Menace).

        The love scenes are probably tied for the worst part of the trilogy with anything that involved one or more Gungans, but the rest of the movie held up reasonably well I thought (if you mostly ignore Anakin, but you have to do that in all three anyway).

        • J Mann says:

          I actually really like the wedding scene, which is beautiful and IMHO had kind of a tragic Shakespearean feel where you know why everyone’s doing this even though you can see it leading to ruin.

          But that’s probably because it doesn’t have dialogue. I do agree that everything Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christiansen says to Natalie Portman is painful.

      • cassander says:

        I had really high hopes for rogue one, and they were almost totally dashed. The last half hour was mostly good, but the first hour was miserable. I maintain what I said when I first heard about the film, that you needed to structure it like a slasher film, with vader as the monster.

        • acymetric says:

          a slasher film, with vader as the monster.

          I would definitely watch this movie, but I don’t think that’s what Rogue One needed to be.

        • cassander says:

          @acymetric

          it shouldn’t actually be a slasher film, but it has to have that dynamic of a group of people we like running from the utterly unstoppable force that was vader, not some bland admiral. A more claustrophobic story with fewer locations, less space travel, and characters I care enough about to remember their names getting chased by someone who they know they cannot fight.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I contend that the worst movie was Force Awakens. Skywalker and arguably TLJ are worse in a vacuum, but the reason those were bad comes back in significant part to a total lack of planning in TFA. J J’s “mystery box” style is to pose a vague question that will lead to audience speculation (who are Rey’s parents, what’s Snoke’s deal, why did Luke leave) and hope he can figure out a satisfying answer by the time the next movie tries to cash that check (he can’t). I’m sympathetic to TLJ’s decision to say “no, all of those mystery boxes are stupid and there was nothing in them anyway, they’re gone now”. It’s a shame Johnson couldn’t build anything decent to replace the stuff he burned down.

      Worst character: Darth Andeddu, the undead Sith. A perfect microcosm of all the ways in which the Expanded Universe is dumb.

      • Nick says:

        It’s a shame Johnson couldn’t build anything decent to replace the stuff he burned down.

        A shame? It’s his fault the third movie had nothing to go on! The Mystery Box is stupid and awful, but stomping all over it and not putting something genuine in its place just means the next writer has nothing to work from. In a trilogy. That is a terrible idea.

        • gbdub says:

          Not only a trilogy, but a trilogy of trilogies… “deconstructing the Star Wars mythos” is not the worst idea for an interesting film, but it’s a terrible thing to attempt in the mainline trilogies after you spent 7 movies building the mythos and have only one more left to finish it.

          It’s the Hero’s Journey with laser swords. Don’t frack the formula midstream.

          • theredsheep says:

            As I understand it, the fault comes down to Disney basically giving their directors free rein and refusing to meaningfully coordinate the way they shifted the future of a bajillion-dollar franchise, to the point where the two directors were passive-aggressively dickslapping each other with the plot.

            The warning signs were there in The Force Awakens; it should have been much less obviously a JJ Abrams movie, but it had his “storytelling style” (“look, it’s an allusion to a better work you liked!”) all over it. I assumed, as I left the theater, that he had a strong hand in trilogy planning and it would follow a consistently mediocre but sort of competent direction. It didn’t even occur to me that effectively nobody was in charge of the trilogy at all. I suspect a lot of cocaine was involved.

          • acymetric says:

            I assumed, as I left the theater, that he had a strong hand in trilogy planning and it would follow a consistently mediocre but sort of competent direction. It didn’t even occur to me that effectively nobody was in charge of the trilogy at all. I suspect a lot of cocaine was involved.

            This mostly describes my reaction as I left the theater. I really enjoyed Force Awakens, between the nostalgia factor and the fact that I liked pretty much all the new characters (Rey, Finn, Poe, Maz, etc) and (yes, yes, JJ mystery boxes) set up some potentially interesting questions (which I thought would amount to something since someone else was finishing the trilogy rather than Abrams). And then…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I suspect a lot of cocaine was involved.

            I reckon that’s a norm Lucasfilm established with the Holiday Special.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          It’s hard for me to figure out where to assign blame (after all, J J created the empty mystery boxes, there was never anything to go on), but in case I came off as too soft on Johnson, my take is that he correctly recognized that J J was taking things in a bad direction, got halfway through turning around, and wound up plunging off a cliff instead of crashing into a wall. That I’m as sympathetic as I am is entirely because I despise J J’s mystery boxes and found it cathartic to see them thrown away. It’s certainly not because TLJ was any good.

        • smocc says:

          I became far more sympathetic to Rian Johnson after watching Knives Out, which proved to me that he is capable of writing coherent and interesting and fresh things. I now assume that most of the incoherence was not his fault, or at least that was the bad outcome of trying to make something interesting while hemmed in by producers and outside influences.

          That said, The Last Jedi made me want to shout angrily at the screen at certain parts while Rise of Skywalker just made me groan and roll my eyes the whole way through. I’m not sure which was worse.

          • acymetric says:

            I now assume that most of the incoherence was not his fault, or at least that was the bad outcome of trying to make something interesting while hemmed in by producers and outside influences.

            Maybe, but my understanding is that Disney was very hands off and Ryan (also JJ) basically had free reign.

      • gbdub says:

        Force Awakens was a decent movie but a lousy basis for a trilogy.

        TLJ made the trilogy unsalvageable, and was a crappy movie to boot. You can’t build a whole non-parody film out of mocking the audience for having genre expectations. The B-plot casino planet shenanigans sucked and took way too long. And it required major idiot balls to be carried by Poe and especially Holdo to happen at all.

        The throne room scene was legitimately excellent, although of course it wasted Snoke. The Red Hoth stuff was great right up until Rose ruined it.

        All that said, Clones is still probably the worst, although I hate it less than some other people do. Rise of Skywalker is probably second worst.

        It’s a tough call. Outside the original trilogy the hard part is finding unambiguously good ones. Revenge of the Sith had its moments, apart from the weakness of the lead actor and the idiot ball Jedis it was pretty good. The Phantom Menace would be a fun kids action movie, except that the core plot was a trade dispute and Roberts Rules of Order. Clones was lousy – the final battle was pretty cool but the CGI doesn’t hold up. Force Awakens was fine as a fun nostalgia piece.

        • acymetric says:

          Revenge of the Sith had the only believable, well done, and appropriate emotional note of the entire trilogy, which should probably count for something.

        • cassander says:

          if TLJ had had the balls to end with Rey taking Kylo Ren’s hand in the throne room, it would have been an amazing setup for a third movie. Instead the rest of the movie is spent repudiating everything they set up in the first half.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That would have repudiated everything that happened in TFA, which highlights the real problem with those movies: Nothing is set up, everything just happens. If you need a character to survive you just write it so they survive every encounter, if you need a character on a planet you just have them crash a ship there, ignoring how impossible it would be for them to get from where they were 2 pages ago in the script.

          • cassander says:

            @baconbits9 says:

            Yes. it would have been actually shocking, like Darth Vader saying he was Luke’s father, not his father’s murderer. I agree that it would have been better if it had been set up early (I like my fiction structured) and I think it’s insane not to have planned out the trilogy in advance, but we were where we were after TFA. That ending would have (A) meant TLJ was consistent with itself at least, if not with TFA and (B) gives you a lot of interesting angles on where to go with the third movie.

          • gbdub says:

            I was actually kind of hoping that would happen, and the trilogy would end with Ben Solo being redeemed but Rey lost. Plus it would make the “Rise of Skywalker” make more sense since Ben actually IS a Skywalker.

          • Exetali Do says:

            That would have been a great way to subvert genre expectations while still staying solidly in the genre. And it would have made the title “The Last Jedi” so much more poignant…

        • b_jonas says:

          You may be right that the Force Awakens trilogy is three decent movies but a very lousy trilogy. That explains why I enjoyed watching each of the three movies, with two years to forget most of the previous movie before watching the next one.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      At the risk of opening the floodgates: The Last Skywalker is my favorite Disney Star Wars movie (though I have not seen Solo). While it is far from perfect (the prequels still overshadow it for me, and each of the original trilogy is well beyond it), I was pleasantly surprised by the way it advanced the core conflict/relationship between Rey and Kylo without retreading the same ground as Luke/Vader or Anakin/Obi-Wan. I also thought it had the strongest supporting cast performances (both the returning Lando/Leia and the new Zorli).

      My least favorite Star Wars movie is either Rogue One or The Last Jedi. Rogue One ranking so low for me is probably just that movie being a uniquely poor fit for my personal preferences (i have a hard time enjoying both war movies and prequels). At the very least, I can understand and appreciate why most people enjoyed that movie more than I did. I have a harder time understanding why someone who enjoyed the rest of the Star Wars franchise would prefer The Last Jedi to The Rise of Skywalker. If someone who holds that opinion would we willing to explain it to me, I would appreciate it.

      My nomination for worst action figure would have to go to the miniatures game where the miniatures were on spring-loaded rotating bases and “did the other mini fall over when you twisted this one and let go to whack it” was a core mechanic of the game. Note that this has nothing at all to do with the current X-Wing miniatures game, which I highly recommend to anyone who is at all interested in the idea of a Star Wars space battle represented with tabletop miniatures.

      I’d also like to add a new “least necessary cross-over” category, to which I will nominate the appearance of the Apprentice (from The Force Uleashed) in Soul Calibur 4.

      • J Mann says:

        Rogue One is kind of a lukewarm mix of scenes from better war movies, but I was sort of hoping they would start making Star Wars versions of other movies – A Star Wars heist movie, a Star Wars meet cute rom com about two workers on the Death Star who keep meeting when they’re out walking their droids, etc.

        • gbdub says:

          If you haven’t seen it yet, The Mandalorian is basically (and seemingly intentionally) just a Star Wars flavored Western and it is great.

          Solo should have been a heist movie, and the most heist movie part of it (the train robbery) is actually pretty good.

          • Skeptical Wolf says:

            I second the recommendation for the Mandalorian. I found the middle episodes to lag a bit in quality, but they never get worse than mediocre. Meanwhile the last third of the season is quite good and the first third is amazing.

          • acymetric says:

            Agreed. I got a tad worried in the middle that it was just going to stall (I really did not like the Bill Burr episode although other people seemed to love it). But things got pretty good as the season closed out.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I found Mando pretty average, but I’ve been very down on all the other Star Wars media so even I have to admit it’s notably better than the rest, and it’s easily the one that feels the most Star Wars-y.

            My one big objection is a recurring problem with their fight scenes: they will go out of their way to establish that the hero’s armour can deflect blaster shots, then forget about that and structure the battle as though shooting at him should create some dramatic tension. At one point he’s losing a fistfight to an ordinary human who keeps punching him in the metal chestplate.

        • theredsheep says:

          Tim Zahn’s “Scoundrels” was at least a SW heist book, albeit from the now-discredited EU. I enjoyed it.

      • albatross11 says:

        _TLJ_ did a pretty decent job handling the Luke/Rey/Kylo/Snoke storyline. If they had managed something like that for the whole movie, it would have been a very solid Star Wars movie, probably up there with the original three. (Though they should have foreshadowed the idea that Luke could do that weird astral transmission thing but it would kill him.).

        I liked _Rogue One_ because it felt like a Star Wars movie. But really, it was a competently done Star Wars fanfic made into a movie. Some dumb stuff, but probably no more than the original movies. They stuck to the rules of the universe and had known starting and ending points, which helped them a lot.

        _The Force Awakens_ introduced some interesting characters, but the world they portrayed didn’t make a lot of sense, they didn’t stick to the rules of their universe, and the plot was almost 100% just a rehash of the original Star Wars plot.

        • SmilingJack says:

          Rian tried to foreshadow the lethal astral projection thing, he just did it unsuccessfully. There’s a scene in which Rey and Kylo see each other for the first time, and Kylo says something like “It can’t be you doing this, the strain would kill you.”

    • J Mann says:

      I vote Phantom Menace as worst, Attack of the Clones as second worst. TPM has, as far as I can remember, many bad qualities and no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It starts with the trade federation text crawl, then introduces the actual trade federation, then for anyone who was concerned that the trade federation might play on racist stereotypes, it introduces Watto and the gungans. The action scenes made no sense, nothing Anakin and Qui-Jon did made any sense, the battle with the gungans throwing giant magic balls out of catapults made no sense, the actual trade federation plot made no sense, the stupid fetch quest to repair the ship made no sense, and it gave us “Are you an angel,” and “Master, what are midichlorians?”

      You could sort of defend it if you assume that it was intended to appeal solely to children from ages 3-10, but even that just moves it up to C- grade – there are much better wish fulfillment/wonder movies for kids.

      The biggest deal in the whole movie – the idea that the Jedi rescue Anakin but are somehow unable or unwilling to save his mother – is completely glossed over. I couldn’t tell you today whether they don’t save her because (1) they’re forbidden to, (2) they’re just completely unable to, despite all their force powers, or (3) the force is intervening somehow.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        TPM has, as far as I can remember, many bad qualities and no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

        Duel of the Fates is in the running for John Williams’ best work. Also podracing is cool, fight me. It’s a big dumb B movie sort of cool, but that’s still cool. Phantom Menace collapses under the weight of expectations, but in some alternate universe where Star Wars never existed, you could release Phantom Menace as a standalone and with the scifi genre being such a ghetto, it would become one of those moderately popular cult classics like The Fifth Element.

        • achenx says:

          John Williams brought his A-game for the whole prequel trilogy. I think he’s the only one involved who did.

        • gbdub says:

          The lightsaber duels in the new trilogy were better (unlikelihood of Rey and especially Finn not getting skewered in Force Awakens notwithstanding). They looked more like people trying to kill each other.

          The prequel trilogy fights looked cool, but on rewatch were mostly a lot of silly flipping and completely ineffectual stage fencing.

        • J Mann says:

          Ok, I retract “no good qualities.” The music was great, and it was awesome to watch Ray Park (Darth Maul) move. His footwork alone is astonishing.

          I thought the pod racing felt artificial, like I was watching someone else play a video game.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Pod-racing could have been cut entirely with no negative impact on the plot.

      • johan_larson says:

        For my money, Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones both have plenty of problems, but Phantom Menace has at least a couple of good things: the pod-race, the fight against Darth Maul, and Qui-Gon Jinn. What parts of Attack of the Clones are actually good?

        • gbdub says:

          Yoda actually getting to be a badass?

          • theredsheep says:

            Yoda’s fight with the Emperor actually kinda reminded me of the old Disney TV show “Gummy Bears.” There’s just no getting past the part where he’s ridiculously short and has to bounce/hop around to hit his opponent. It’s like Reepicheep from Narnia, but played straight.

          • johan_larson says:

            I actually think it was a mistake to have Yoda fight Count Dooku. Yoda isn’t a warrior. He’s a sage and a mystic. Having him contribute to the war effort made sense, but they should have found some subtler way for him to make a difference.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah, there’s a part in the “making of” features on AotC’s DVDs where Lucas is talking to somebody about how “we’ve never gotten to see Yoda fight,” and I’m thinking “who ever wanted to see Yoda fight…?”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You say it reminded you of Gummi Bears like that’s a bad thing!

            Clones was boring. I didn’t give a hoot about anything at all in it. Like the worst of the Jurassic Park movies.

            TPM was full of problems but could be enjoyed.

          • gbdub says:

            Diss it all you want, but Yoda lighting up his saber actually got the opening night crowd cheering during an otherwise disappointing screening.

            In retrospect, yeah, it would be better if Yoda were more of a mage, but it’s hard to do that when you’ve established that the good guys aren’t allowed to shoot lightning bolts.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I remember being really excited at that moment as a teenager.

            It gave off a “oh shit, things must be really seriously if freaking Yoda is about to throw down” vibe and most of the audience seemed to love it.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, I think a lot of people wanted to see Yoda throw down and were excited when he did.

            Palpatine’s moves were way worse than any of Yoda’s spinning anyway.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            There’s just no getting past the part where he’s ridiculously short and has to bounce/hop around to hit his opponent. It’s like Reepicheep from Narnia, but played straight.

            In Charlemagne romances (e.g. Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato establishes this in early cantos), Paladins fight giants by making 20-foot high jumps in armor to strike their heads. Do you think it would be inherently ridiculous to adapt this to visual media?

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Le Maistre Chat
            Judge for yourself

          • theredsheep says:

            From what I recall of the Italian Charlemagne romances, they were pretty ridiculous in print. Mind you, I read adaptations by Bulfinch, and it was some time ago, but I recall it as something of a farce, with people bumbling around like A Midsummer Night’s Dream losing memories and finding magical artifacts that make you invincible and stealing each others’ lovers with charms. Kind of funny to read, but I’m at a loss to see why one would take it seriously when the author can’t work out a way to drive the plot without constant extravagant sorcery.

            Anyway, yes, visually implausible jumps up into the air to bonk someone on the head are intrinsically funny.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anyway, yes, visually implausible jumps up into the air to bonk someone on the head are intrinsically funny.

            Every proper munchkin knows that a hit point is a hit point and the optimal strategy is to just keep hacking at their shins until they drop dead. Which is also an intrinsically funny image.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @theredsheep:

            From what I recall of the Italian Charlemagne romances, they were pretty ridiculous in print. Mind you, I read adaptations by Bulfinch, and it was some time ago, but I recall it as something of a farce, with people bumbling around like A Midsummer Night’s Dream losing memories and finding magical artifacts that make you invincible and stealing each others’ lovers with charms.

            I mean… yes and no. Some of the Italian epic poets were just being wacky and erudite (Morgante has the title hero die of laughter watching a monkey put boots on, which behavior is a Pliny reference). Ariosto had a goal of being a Capital-A Artist, a poet to compete with Dante, and so structures his poem more to the tropes of epic: which remember, was considered the highest form of literature, given the reverence modern literati give the novel. He was trying to balance the silliness expected with serious themes like religion, violence, the State and the psychology of love.
            Maybe you need to get into a GK Chesterton or CS Lewis mindset to grok the expected reception to what elite Renaissance Christians considered deep yet entertaining?

            Our oblivion of these poets is much to be regretted, not only because it vitiates our understanding of the Romantic Movement — a phenomenon which becomes baffling indeed if we choose to neglect the noble viaduct on which the love of chivalry and ‘fine fabling’ travelled straight across from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century — but also because it robs us of a whole species of pleasures and narrows our very conception of literature. It is as if a man left out Homer, or Elizabethan drama, or the novel.

            — Lewis, The Allegory of Love

          • bullseye says:

            Conan knows how to fight giants: if you cut the legs, they fall down and then you can reach the rest.

          • Garrett says:

            I feel it would have worked better if Yoda used the force to control several lightsabers at distance, much like conducting an orchestra. Then stature doesn’t matter and it fits better with him lifting heavy things in the swamp later on.

        • J Mann says:

          I liked the secret wedding and the arena fight. (Are those in Attack of the Clones?). The stunt with Anakin and Obi-Wan jumping between flying cars was IMHO cool in a Roger Moore over the top Bond way. Without Neeson in the way, Ewan McGregor really starts to show off, and he’s the best thing in the prequels.

          I liked the idea that Palpatine is winning by forcing the Jedi to militarize – that the shift in their stance and outlook is enough for the dark side to take root.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        there are much better wish fulfillment/wonder movies for kids

        From this specific perspective, both Ewok Adventure movies are surprisingly good.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        “Master, what are midichlorians?”

        But we did eventually get the best answer: “It’s heroin.”

        • Telomerase says:

          Yes, the “midichlorians are opiates” theory tied it all together.

          Auralnauts also showed that using Blade Runner music for Star Wars would still have been pretty good, no disrepect to Williams.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The whole series is amazing. Anyone who hasn’t seen it needs to watch those. It’s a pretty great way to spend May the Fourth.

            For those who don’t know, the Auralnauts YouTube channel is run by…I guess they’re audio/sound engineers/specialists? They recut Episodes 1-6 and then dubbed new dialogue over the sound. In the new interpretation of the prequels, the Jedi are drugged out party monsters and Mr. Palpatine is just trying to get them to pay their bar tabs and stop wrecking his Space Hooters. If you haven’t seen it, and you sort of like Star Wars, you have to watch this series.

            Episodes 1-3 are top-tier comedy gold. It falls off a little after that simply because it’s harder to make fun of genuinely good movies like the original trilogy.

            Also, SUPER BOAT.

          • JPNunez says:

            Damn, this is amazing. Gonna be singing it’s baby time for a long time.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            My favorite is still “you promised me fleeeessh!!!”

    • achenx says:

      I never got into the EU stuff, so I can’t really say there. (“I’m super trustworthy”, said Darth Nefarious)

      As for the movies.. there’s unfortunately just so much to choose from. I’m not sure anything could ever be more disappointing than The Phantom Menace, but at least it has an original plot. The Force Awakens retreads every single beat from the original movie, but dumber, and then seems to set up the rest of the sequel trilogy for failure. The Last Jedi seems to fulfill said promise of failure while also adding its own original bad parts. I never did see the last one. The other prequel movies after TPM are also bad, but I’m not sure they’re actually worse than TPM as such.

      Oof. I’m just going to keep pretending there are only three movies, two of which are great and one of which is still pretty good, and none of them have any CGI other than wire-frame Death Star graphics.

      • theredsheep says:

        Concur on the last bit. SW was two great movies and one good one. Some of the books and video games were fun. Now it’s dead, and we can move on to other pop culture.

    • MilesM says:

      If I tried to be dispassionate and objective, I might rank The Phantom Menace as worse than some of the recent… efforts.

      But in terms of what I actually feel deep down inside, it’s The Last Jedi, by a huge margin.

      Even if you set the big question of what Johnson decided to do to Star Wars aside, it’s actually mostly terrible – badly paced, without a central plot worthy of the name, uneven in tone, endlessly contrived and (worst of all) boring. There was not one decent action scene in the whole movie.
      (The throne room fight might have looked great on storyboards, but the fight choreography in the final product was terrible. The climactic salt planet scene had some nice wide shots but otherwise was just people driving in a straight line, yelling into their radios. And the less said about the whole casino planet interlude, the better.)

      As far as bad toys go – I grew up with bootleg Star Wars action figures. I think they were made by making molds of the originals and casting the pieces from hard-ish rubber. The limbs had studs (shaped like a fat arrowhead in cross-section, so that they’d go in, then lock in place) and were just pressed into the torso piece. If the casting wasn’t great, they’d have a tendency to fall out when manipulated, and would have to be replaced.

      • theredsheep says:

        I just now remembered that line where Finn says “it was worth it” to annoy the rich gamblers by causing a bunny-horse stampede, even if it did mean their mission appeared to be an utter failure. I thought that was kinda funny, that spiting a bunch of rich people he doesn’t really know, and not even causing them much lasting harm, was worth EVERYONE IN THE SHIPS IS GOING TO DIE AND THE FIRST ORDER WILL WIN.

        Right up there with the part where Holdo says “you’ve gambled everything and lost,” when, at that moment, they had no reason to believe they wouldn’t succeed. Since the random junkie they were jailed with had all the skills they needed. And also they weren’t gambling much of anything, just taking away two people who were sitting on their asses waiting to die. I guess wasting a bit of fuel, too.

        Really, TLJ was just a remarkable ball of cock-up. My pick for worst of the movies, though I haven’t seen RoS. The prequels had bad acting and atrocious dialogue, but I seem to recall characters’ motivations and behaviors making clear and consistent sense. Yes, even the romance; Anakin can’t handle celibacy and Padme apparently has terrible taste in men. It’s depressing and the actors don’t really sell it, but it’s consistent enough.

    • JPNunez says:

      I love The Last Jedi. Depending on the day you ask me, the third or fourth better Star Wars. Yeah, it has some very dumb problems that I honestly don’t know how they made to the final script, but what’s good in it is among the best in the franchise. It absolutely nails Luke, has two of the coolest lightsaber battle, has the fucking red guards attack when Snoke is killed (while they promptly flew away when the emperor was killed), and implies the war has been in the service of the galactic war profiteering elite.

      Honestly I’ve would have gone with that angle for the sequel.

      ROS is such an unrelenting movie. The pace is insane and makes me think it could have been two slightly less bad movies. Dunno. It’s a serviceable ending to an unplanned trilogy but it is just so boring. Only better than Attack of the Clones. Probably worse than Revenge of the Sith, which at least had a much more interesting Palpatine.

    • aristides says:

      For movies, I have to go with Attack of the Clones. It has the least believable romance I’ve seen combined with the worst acting. I’ve never cringed harder. Even the action scenes were worse than the two other prequel movies.

    • John Schilling says:

      With the caveat that I haven’t seen the last two movies:

      Absolute worst movie, Attack of the Clones. It’s a close call between that and Revenge of the Sith; at this point I can’t recall which of those prompted my post-viewing comment, “This would have been a pretty good movie if they’d just rewritten every single line of dialogue”. But RotS had scattered bits of coolness around, well, the Sith. AotC had the wretched, unbelievably horrible Annakin/Padme romance, and that takes it straight to the bottom. But at least everyone admits that there was at least something off about it.

      Most overrated movie, The Force Awakens. Taken in complete isolation, it’s a mediocre Sci-Fi flick with a bunch of characters I can’t make myself care about. In context, it’s a wholly inferior retread of A New Hope, apparently for people who want an ANH for their generation. And I’m not one of them. The early scenes on not-Tattoine weren’t too bad, though, and having a recognizable Han and Chewie back for one last time was OK. So, mediocre Sci-Fi flick with a few OK bits, but enormous hype about how this was the perfect rebirth of the franchise with an awesome strong female protagonist(tm) and a villain with emotional depth(tm), and just no.

      Worst anything outside the movies: The very concept of having Star Wars exist outside the movies. Again, apologies to Mel Brooks, but this is a great way to make money and a pretty good way to make me not care. There was some pretty good work done in the old Expanded Universe, amidst a whole lot of dreck. I assume the same is true of the new extra-cinematic canon. But it all comes with the expectation that I’m supposed to know all of it, and if I don’t then I’m not a True Fan(tm) and I deserve to be confused when something from some odd part of the canon shows up somewhere I am paying attention. Most notably in Solo, where the central action sequence is based on a bit of forty-year-old extra-canonical fanwanking, and the final twist is absolute nonsense unless you’ve watched the (let me check my notes) fourth season of the third animated series. If you insist on doing this stuff, make it a purely optional add-on, because if I get the impression that you’re creating a vast multimedia construct that will lose me if I don’t watch the movies and read the books and tune in for the TV series and all the rest, you’ve already lost me.

    • Brassfjord says:

      The Ewok Adventure (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985) are not on my list of best movies ever.

    • johan_larson says:

      Has the franchise ever done a good job of showing someone’s turn to the dark side of the Force? I didn’t find Anakin’s path in Revenge of the Sith particularly compelling.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The problem is the whole premise is nonsensical. Yes, one should not give in to hatred, fear or anger or you might become a monster. But that doesn’t make you join the side of the people you hate. If you hate Hitler for killing Jews, you might go crazy and start killing Aryans. You don’t give in to your hatred for Hitler…and then join him and start killing Jews. But in Star Wars we’re supposed to believe if Luke gives in to his hatred for the Emperor for killing his friends he’s going to…join the Emperor and help him kill his friends.

        • johan_larson says:

          Well, maybe we could think of the dark side as something like a drug. And this drug is performance-enhancing, feels really damn good, is definitely habit forming, and tends to make you kinda crazy. Assuming you’re Force-sensitive, you start out doing it just to get a little edge, you know. Then you find yourself using it more and more. I think that works.

          And continuing the drug metaphor, plenty of people go from using drugs, to dealing a little on the side, to becoming full-on drug dealers. Similarly Force users would be in danger of using the dark side a bit and then seeking out Sith teachings on how to do so better and then finding an actual Sith instructor, until ultimately they are Sith themselves.

          Of course, that’s a much longer, slower tale of succumbing to greed than Star Wars is looking to tell. But if you’re trying to emphasize the psychological side of it, to show why someone might do such a thing, this is the sort of explanation you really need to provide. And I think you could tell a tale like this within the Star Wars universe.

          • MilesM says:

            I mean, I don’t think you even need to work that hard to justify why people who give up control to an omnipotent, evil mind-controlling force might behave differently than real people who were driven insane by hatred.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The Emperor is not asking Luke to join him and kill his friends, from his POV Luke’s friends are all dead and Luke isn’t there to save his father so they can live a happy life together as he thinks that any moment now the rebellion will destroy the DS2 and kill all three of them. Additionally the Emperor has nothing to fear from Luke, he can shoot lightning from his freaking fingers! He crushes Luke with a single gesture.

          When Luke cuts off Vader’s hand and then looks at his own hand the realization is ‘they are taking me one piece at a time’. They took his hope by revealing the trap, they took his self control by goading him and threatening his friends and sister, and if he kills Vader they will take away the part of him that loves his father despite the fact that his father is a monster. The Emperor is all about control and the action is purely symbolic- if I can convince you to kill your own father then I can convince you to do anything.

          You can’t ignore also that Luke isn’t there to kill the Emperor, when he beats Vader he throws his light saber away. He has a singular goal which is to draw a piece of the light sight out of his father, killing his father himself is a complete admission of failure (again simultaneously he friends are about to be wiped out from E’s POV).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, the symbology is not lost on me. But the Emperor did expect that Luke would kill his father, and then not…get all depressed and eventually fall to the dark side, he expected him to literally take his side at that moment and help him take out whatever was left of the Rebellion. When I said “his friends” I didn’t just mean Han, Leia, Chewie and Lando, I meant the support guys back at base or whatever. Just like Anakin went from “I’m going to help arrest Palpatine” to “I’m going to bow down in front of him, swear allegiance to him and his cause, and then go murder children.”

        • JPNunez says:

          I always assumed that the Emperor was operating on some “For the greater evil” paradigm, and if Luke killed his father, the Emperor would then call for a pacific resolution and scale down the conflict and concede stuff to the resistance, probably even reopen the senate, as long as Luke became Vader’s replacement. And eventually Luke would be evil and the Emperor can be evil publicly again.

          Because yeah, ROTJ doesn’t make a lot of sense if interpreted directly in that regard.

          The only good thing that ROS does is make the Emperor’s plan make a little sense, because he is looking for a way to corrupt either Kylo or Rey and take over their bodies, but I am not sure this applied to Luke in ROTJ.

      • gbdub says:

        Anakin was believable right up to the point he attacked Windu, and then nothing made sense.

        I mean, up until that moment he wanted Palpatine captured. And Palpatine betrays him, tricking him into attacking Windu and then murdering Windu himself. Suddenly Anakin gives up all resistance and goes off to murder children? The angry, impulsive Anakin should have put his saber through Palpatine’s smug face. Maybe he still falls to the Dark Side, but having him become Palpatine’s unquestioning servant in that moment is not believable.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah. Note that if Anakin takes Palpatine’s head off, he’s the only witness to what happened. He can emerge a hero or at least can honestly justify why he wouldn’t let Windu kill the elected leader of the Republic with no trial.

          • JPNunez says:

            But when Anakin kills the little jedi, there’s a holofilm of the act. Maybe Palpatine’s quarters are bugged in some way too.

            Or they can priori incantatem Anakin’s lightsaber and ask the Emperor’s ghost.

          • gbdub says:

            Anakin is impulsive, angry, and megalomaniacal, not stupid. Part of why he is on the outs with the Jedi Council is because he hates being manipulated and kept out of the loop – he thinks he’s the greatest and that he deserves recognition for this.

            Palpatine sporting his evil grin and Force-yeeting Mace out the window is the moment Anakin would have realized he got played. And Anakin as depicted would have been pissed. Holocams be damned, Anakin would be swinging, not bowing to the guy who just revealed that he’s been doing exactly what Anakin thought the Jedi were doing to him.

          • albatross11 says:

            Even with a surveillance video, if Anakin kills Palpatine right after Palpatine kills Windu, then Anakin is:

            a. A hero who killed yet another Sith lord.

            That makes him the current title holder, having killed two Sith to Kenobi’s one.

            b. Able to make a completely reasonable justification for his actions.

            Mace Windu was violating the rules Anakin had been taught to uphold, and was about to summarily execute the head of the democratic government Anakin was sworn to uphold. Anakin attempting to prevent the summary execution of Palpatine while helping Windu take him into custody was 100% defensible.

            c. The guy who ended the war, since without Dooku and Palpatine, the whole operation is probably going to fall apart.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @albatross: That would have been a better film for sure.
            I guess this is the problem with writing prequels to another of your stories.

          • JPNunez says:

            Did anyone other than the Jedi know of the Sith Lords?

            I mean the galaxy almost forgets about the Jedi 20 years after they fall, so an occult order of dark Jedi is probably even more forgotten.

            So in that case what the public sees is Mace Windu trying to kill a popular Senator, then Anakin helping Palpatine free himself, then Palpatine killing Mace Windu, THEN Anakin killing Palpatine, which is to say, at least somewhat confusing.

            People would largely ignore Palpatine shooting lasers from his fingers because the Jedis killed him anyway.

          • Exetali Do says:

            And don’t forget:

            d) secretly the current reigning Sith Lord, who now needs to find a Sith apprentice himself

        • bullseye says:

          Anakin protects Palpatine from Windu because he thinks Palpatine can save Padme. To me, the part where Anakin really should attack Palpatine is when Palpatine admits he doesn’t actually know how to save Padme.

          So here’s my take on what’s going on:

          Firstly, and I think this part is basically canon, being able to use the Force comes with a huge drawback: giving in to the wrong emotions turns you into a psycho killer.

          We all know that fear and anger are Dark Side emotions, but Vader in the original trilogy never really seems afraid or angry. He tells Luke, calmly, that he just can’t turn back to the Light because the Dark is too strong. I propose that despair is a Dark Side emotion. When Palpatine says that he doesn’t know how to save Padme, Anakin doesn’t look surprised; he kind of already knew. But he’s already cut ties with the Jedi by siding with Palpatine over Windu, so he doesn’t see any way that his life can go other than becoming Sith. Also, Anakin is kind of dumb and always thinks in black and white; Jedi are Light and Sith are Dark, so having fallen to the Dark Side he thinks he has to follow Palpatine.

          I think Palpatine can strengthen the Dark Side in other people. It helps him take control of Anakin, and also it’s why Windu suddenly changes his plan from arrest to assassination.

          • gbdub says:

            “He can help me save Padme” explains Anakin wanting to protect Palpatine from death. It emphatically doesn’t explain him becoming immediately and unquestioningly subservient to Palpatine after he takes advantage of Anakin’s mercy to kill Mace.

            Remember, arresting Palpatine was Anakin’s idea. He has already decided that Palpatine is evil (even though he does still want his forbidden knowledge). He is NOT willing to become Palpatine’s patsy before this point (the offer was clearly already on the table). The only thing that has changed is that Palpatine is even more obviously evil and has shown a willingness to use Anakin.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Potential reads on the force
          1:It is basically demonology. The force is Evil, with a capital E, but it can be forced towards constructive ends by practitioners with nearly inhuman levels of self-control. This is why the jedi order only recruits very young pupils, instilling the necessary discipline is more reliable if you start them that young.

          2: The easiest person to do the jedi mind trick on in all the galaxy is yourself.
          This is why force practitioners are either saints or devils. If you believe you are a good person, the force trivially grants you the willpower to never, ever violate your own code. If you do evil, the force grants you the ability to squash all feelings of guilt or remorse. This is how people can go from one extreme to another so very quickly – their initial personality is essentially a force construct, and once they have “given into the dark side” and cant persuade themselves it is who they are anymore, the usual response to the guilt of whatever the precipitating event that shattered their self conception was is to simply turn their conscience off entirely.

          Grey jedi and the rest that do not fall into this duality are simply force users who are aware of this problem and go to extraordinary lengths to not mind-fuck themselves.

          • acymetric says:

            If you believe you are a good person, the force trivially grants you the willpower to never, ever violate your own code.

            Not really. Can you name a single canon Jedi that never violates their code?

          • bullseye says:

            Number 1 is a pretty interesting take. It makes so much sense I wonder why I haven’t seen it before.

            But with Number 2, how can Anakin fall to the Dark Side? He thinks of himself as a good person, so he should only do things he thinks are right. Which he doesn’t; he knows that murdering the sand people is wrong, and that murdering Count Dooku is wrong (Dooku is essentially a POW at the moment of his death).

            I propose a Number 3: the Force grants a type of power that no one has in real life, and it tends to screw with people’s heads. Real life power requires some degree of cooperation with other people. Even gangsters demanding what they want at gunpoint need the cooperation of the rest of the gang. But if you’re strong enough in the Force you can strut around and demand whatever you want without anybody backing you up. The Dark Side is simply the temptation to use your power without regarding other people as people. Palpatine only bothers with all of his scheming because he has to worry about Jedi showing up and stopping him. Once they’re gone he’s untouchable and he can go full evil.

          • albatross11 says:

            One consistent until the sequels message about the Force was that the dark side was a way to get quick results. Basically, by focusing on your anger and fear, you can quickly get powerful enough to fight a much more skilled user of the Force.

            The implication in the final showdown between Luke and Vader was that Luke was seriously overmatched (he’d had no additional training, note) until he got so upset/outraged/scared by the threat to Leia that he used his rage to defeat Vader. That’s also why he had to toss aside his lightsaber–it was how he could avoid tapping into the dark side.

            I’m guessing the Force amplifies and maybe burns in those emotions, so a person who uses fear to more easily reach his Force power is canalized more and more toward fear, and a person who uses hatred or rage is canalized more and more toward hatred or rage. That fits with the idea that using those is a quick path to power, but also that once you start down that path, it’s increasingly hard to come back.

            Vader comes off as mostly not being driven by hatred or fear in episodes 4-6, maybe more contempt and pride. Perhaps those are less dangerous emotions, and made his final heel-face turn possible. In particular, he *couldn’t* feel rage at his son, and didn’t feel fear of his son at least until his son whooped up on him. Several times during both showdowns, Vader was clearly proud of his son. (“Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-wan has taught you well.”)

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            The implication in the final showdown between Luke and Vader was that Luke was seriously overmatched (he’d had no additional training, note)

            I thought it was pretty heavily implied that he did train in between Empire and RotJ, likely with the assistance of Ghost-Kenobi and/or Ghost-Yoda. Not that he wasn’t still seriously overmatched, but I just had to quibble there.

      • AG says:

        The latest Clone Wars season has made a strong case for showing why Anakin fell.

        • J Mann says:

          Is there a new season?

          • J Mann says:

            Ah, it’s on Disney+. One of these days, I’m really going to have to start my plan of cycling my streaming membership among Netflix/Hulu/DC/Disney/etc. like a nomadic hunter/gatherer.

          • acymetric says:

            The Disney/Hulu bundle (it also includes ESPN+, but that service is almost completely useless even for most sports fans so we’ll ignore it) is a pretty good deal. I’ve found Hulu to have much better offerings than Netflix (especially in terms of TV shows).

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks – right now we have Youtube TV and Netflix, but there are a couple things I want to watch on DC/Disney/Hulu
            HBO. I’ll probably propose to my family that we switch the secondary service every quarter or so.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I think the Legacy of the Force EU novel series did a decent job showing the descent of Jacen Solo into the dark side. You can sort of see how each step makes sense, and the way that Jacen’s (twisted) adherence to his principles take him from one of the greatest heroes of the good guys into the biggest villain since Palpatine.

        The trouble is, though, the EU throughout the New Jedi Order/LotF/Fate of the Jedi era of publishing (so basically 2000 – 2012) was at war with itself. The authors couldn’t agree on what the Jedi philosophy was, or what it meant, and so repeatedly the grand philosophical struggle amongst the new Jedi would be resolved, only for the next author to seize the reins and Well, Actually…take things in an entirely new direction. Jacen, as more or less the central protagonist of that philosphical debate, comes across with an incoherent mess of ethics that kind of undercuts the whole premise.

        Vergere is, though, I think the best Sith ever written. She’s worth it.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I think the Legacy of the Force EU novel series did a decent job showing the descent of Jacen Solo into the dark side. You can sort of see how each step makes sense, and the way that Jacen’s (twisted) adherence to his principles take him from one of the greatest heroes of the good guys into the biggest villain since Palpatine.

          Wait… are you implying that Episodes 7-8 were a retread of the latter parts of the Legacy of the Force EU novels, skipping everything before Han and Leia’s Jedi son is a villain?
          (Episode 9 was a mash-up of the Disney Trilogy’s existing characters with the plot of the Dark Empire comic, where somehow, Palpatine returned in a clone body. He has a Sith clone of Luke named Luuke Skywalker.)

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          “Vergere was a sith the whole time” was itself one of those “at war with itself” retcons by subsequent authors, after the creation of the character and the entire philosophy-heavy work of Matt Stover’s “Traitor”.

          EDIT: @LMC Hmmm, I think the only thing they have in common is “Han and Leia’s Jedi Son is the Villain”, really. Jacen in the books and Ben in the Movies are -very- different characters with very different motivations, and their contexts are completely different (with Legacy of the Force also having some on-the-nose and heavy-handed 9/11/GWOT allegory thrown in).

        • acymetric says:

          I think the Legacy of the Force EU novel series did a decent job showing the descent of Jacen Solo into the dark side.

          Spoiler alert! :p

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Let’s use this day of days to pick through the dregs of the Star Wars franchise. What’s the worst film, TV series, game, novel, action figure, character, line, and whatever else we can think of in the published works of the franchise?

      film: Rise of Skywalker
      TV series: don’t know
      novel: I’ve read 0. Heard the old Thrawn trilogy is good.
      action figure: Willrow Hood, an extra from Empire who’s on screen for literally one second, fleeing Cloud City with an ice cream maker.
      character: Oh man, this one’s tough… Jar-Jar? Rey? Snoke?
      line: closes eyes in despairJust say it, Oscar… Oscars are a lost hope now, but you’ll always have a Golden Globe for Inside Llewyn Davis.”

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      The Empire Strikes Back, because it’s the most boringest one.

  13. MVDZ says:

    A question here for libertarians and other people weary of government intervention, with a short introduction on why I think it’s worth asking:
    I feel like a lot of skepticism regarding government intervention here is coloured by experiences with the US government. The US government does seem to be, at least recently (since the 1980s) incredibly incompetent. Whether this is by design (Republicans defunding essential government agencies so much that they start sucking), lobbying (American donors more or less write legislation to work for them, not the country) or culture, is an interesting side question. (I am assuming kind of here that while the US functions well for the top third of the country, most other countries have better outcomes for larger parts of their populations. Feel free to disagree with this, but please don’t reply just based on that as it will derail the thread.)

    My main question is twofold.
    1. Would you imagine yourself to be more accepting of government intervention if you lived in a well-functioning democratic state in Europe or Asia? If only in some cases, where do you see the cut-off point: small Northern European states, large states with a more federative bent (large either in population (Germany) or area (Australia, Canada), or large states that are highly centralized (e.g. France).
    2. Regardless of your answer to question one, what are your top X potential fixes. Can be anything from huge things like having a parliamentary system or proportional representation, to outlawing donations by corporations and/or limiting the amount of money individuals can donate.
    Thanks for engaging! I’m just trying to make sense of your world-view from a perspective of a Dutch left-wing (raging commie by American standards) person who is quite happy with the way his country is run, despite some fuck-ups every now and then.

    • Anteros says:

      My answer would have a CW streak running through it, so I’ll hold my tongue on this thread. Ask the same question on a fractious thread and I’ll be more forthcoming [But still really really civil 😀]

    • Garrett says:

      I’m going to dodge your particular questions for CW reasons and provide a more abstract answer. One of the main questions which political philosophy needs to answer is “what is the proper role of the government?” There are many different ways to go about developing an answer. However, the founding of the United States was based substantially on the principles of English liberty, in a fashion most typified by John Locke’s Second Treaties of Government. If someone was to read this and take it to heart, the “soul” of the US would become apparent.

    • baconbits9 says:

      1. No. Almost every (every?) country that I think would fit your general definition has extremely low rates of unskilled immigration, and that is a moral (and economic and stability wise) non starter for me.

      2A. I think laws should have to be reaffirmed by the public. For a real democracy you shouldn’t have people’s opinions from three centuries ago acting as a binding constraint. A new law would have to be positively voted on every X years (or Every X*Y years where Y is the number of times it has been reaffirmed).

      2B. A person needs to be able to vote against a candidate and accumulate their votes over time. If you give me a choice between Trump and Biden I ought to be able to make a vote against either of them that means something, and small groups ought to have mechanisms for voicing strong preferences.

      • MVDZ says:

        @baconbits9
        1. Interesting, are you for a very lenient immigration or completely open borders? Incidentally, most Western-European countries have around 20% of their population consisting of people who are either foreign-born, or have at least one foreign-born parent. Half of which are of non-Western heritage, which would often overlap with unskilled. I’m sure that’s lower than the US, but taking into account the already much, much, much higher population density of Western Europe, I’d say it’s not an extremely low rate of immigration.

        2A. I don’t know about other countries, but here (Netherlands) the constitution dates from 1848 and got updated several times since. The current version dates from 1983. The current iteration of the French Republic (Fifth) dates from 1958, and differs radically from the Fourth, going from a near-parliamentary system to an executive one. It was ratified by referendum under Charles DeGaulle.
        Again, I feel like this idea of static government is uniquely American. ‘Founding Fatherism’ doesn’t exist anywhere else. Perhaps this can be explained by the US having a less stable cultural identity, therefore a political system becomes fixed as part of that identity? Just thinking out loud here.

        2B. I don’t know of any system that allows for empty seats in parliament or a vacant executive office if it has one. However, proportional representation does provide an alternative to mainstream political parties. In the most barrier-free systems, those of Israel and the Netherlands, there are over a dozen parties in parliament. The three traditional parties in the Netherlands (Christian-Democrats/Liberal Conservatives (fiscally conservative, socially liberal) and Social Democrats) went from having a reliable 80+% of the vote in the 1970s to less than half, currently. Those votes all went to new parties, founded from the 60s onwards, many of which have partaken in government.
        Even in larger and less open proportional systems like Germany, you still have alternatives to the big two, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, ranging from post-communists to extreme-right parties.
        Again, I feel like this is a problem mostly of Anglo-American systems based on the British one.

        Which brings me back to my original post: I feel like a lot of the structural issues attacked as ‘Government’ by a certain part of the commentariat here, is just attacking US system, which is clearly dysfunctional (in my opinion). That’s why I’m trying to find out if and what opinions exist on foreign governments.
        PS: I also don’t think this is particularly Cultur Warry. This is just about governmental systems, something we talk about all the time here.
        PPS: I also prefer not to go into object-level arguments like cassander asked for. Please look for examples yourself.

        • edmundgennings says:

          2A some amount of this might be related to unresolved federalism compromises. A very good argument can be made that if the constitution ceased to exist, we would get 50 sovereign nations resulting (plus the assorted territories). The constitution is not just the way that the USA happens to be governed, but why it exists and the legal ground for its existence. A good portion of the population feels that something like this is the case but not a super majority. But it is enough that it can not be ignored.

          Then again the EU does not seem to have this with respect to the various founding treaties.

          • MVDZ says:

            I have trouble understanding why the Constitution would cease to exist. Do you mean if it would get updated? Why would that mean it ceases to exist? Isn’t the whole point of updating things that you keep some things that work well but replace or discard others?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @MVDZ, I think what @edmundgennings is arguing is: Suppose that the US held a convention to write a new constitution and then submitted it to be ratified by referendum, like France did in 1958. Suppose that an overall majority ratified it, but in three states a majority rejected it. There is an excellent argument the new Constitution would not be valid in those three states; they would become independent while the new Constitution went into effect in a United States of the other 47 states.

            This’s exactly what happened in 1788: the Federal Convention wrote a new Constitution which was submitted to conventions in each of the 13 states. 11 states approved it and then proceeded to elect a Congress and President, while North Carolina and Rhode Island didn’t approve it for another couple years and stayed independent in the meantime.

          • edmundgennings says:

            Other countries talk of suspending their constitutions. If that happend in the US, the federal government would plausibly lose all legal authority. Alternatively, if the USA tried to make a new constitution without following the methods established in the old one, any state that wanted to could plausibly have the legal right to leave and become independent.(Whether this is in fact the case is unclear but at least half the population has some feeling in this direction) And if they did follow the methods for amending the constitution, it would not be a new one just the old one significantly changed. And we have had a number of admendments.

          • Evan Þ says:

            There is one other possibility, though: Do what postwar Japan did. Write an amendment to the existing constitution saying “Everything in this Constitution is repealed and replaced by this new document we’ve attached.” Then, pass that using the preexisting amendment process.

            Assuming you don’t deny any state without its consent its equal suffrage in the Senate, that would be completely constitutional without any risk of leaving nonconsenting states outside the Union.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the real issue is whether there is a cohesive enough society at a specific level for people to create a new constitution and trusting that they don’t be hoodwinked in the process. I think that this doesn’t exist at the EU level, nor at the federal US level.

            The EU tried to create a constitution, but this was rejected in two of the four referendums that were held. 16 countries didn’t see a need to hold a referendum. The very same constitution was then adopted as amendments to existing treaties, without further referendums.

            In contrast, when some changes were rejected during the last major revision of the Dutch constitution (1983), they actually didn’t get adopted. If you look at the opposing votes, they come from all over the political spectrum, so it’s not one minority that got trampled on.

            It seems to me that there is now both a desire for increasing centralization of governance among a certain group, but also a deterioration of cohesion in society, which makes that centralization in accordance with democratic principles harder.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Which brings me back to my original post: I feel like a lot of the structural issues attacked as ‘Government’ by a certain part of the commentariat here, is just attacking US system, which is clearly dysfunctional (in my opinion). That’s why I’m trying to find out if and what opinions exist on foreign governments.

          There is something that always bothers me about these conversations, and part of it is the comparison between the US and European systems as if there is a European system. The approach lends itself to ‘of course you can high immigration work, look at Sweden, and you can have this parliamentary system work look at X, and you can have UBI work, look at Y’, Europe is large enough, rich enough and fragmented enough that there are going to be innumerable individual successes to hold up as examples.

      • baconbits9 says:

        1. Interesting, are you for a very lenient immigration or completely open borders? Incidentally, most Western-European countries have around 20% of their population consisting of people who are either foreign-born, or have at least one foreign-born parent. Half of which are of non-Western heritage, which would often overlap with unskilled. I’m sure that’s lower than the US, but taking into account the already much, much, much higher population density of Western Europe, I’d say it’s not an extremely low rate of immigration.

        As long as the US government controls the borders they need to enact some measures or you create a tragedy of the commons. Purely open borders is only desirable in a far more decentralized US, so I don’t support ‘open borders’ but I strongly support large amounts of free movement of people.

        Percentages don’t particularly interest me in this context, the ability to immigrate to the US in the 1800s was incredibly valuable to an Irish person, but that person and their descendants are long considered American. If you did count them simply you would bin them under ‘Western’ immigrants when in reality they were among the poorest people who could afford to immigrate at all in the world. On the other end I don’t think that growing immigrant populations that are surging due to a flat or declining total native population are desirable on their own. Dynamics have to be long run stable and I don’t view the European path that way, with some possible exceptions.

        • Telomerase says:

          Now surely we aren’t going to start counting the Irish as human? Read Caplan’s book, he has a whole chapter on how to make immigration more efficient without going totally beyond the Pale:

          https://www.amazon.com/Open-Borders-Science-Ethics-Immigration/dp/1250316960

          • baconbits9 says:

            I read a lot of Caplan’s stuff from the late 2000s through the early teens, and I have never found him to be compelling on policy.

          • Telomerase says:

            @baconbits9: I haven’t read that much Caplan. This book that I linked to is actually a collaboration with Weinersmith. I found that not only were the arguments compelling, he doesn’t demand that you share his worldview… you could be a Modi Hindu nationalist or a rabid Build A Random Wall Trumpistani, and still be able to appreciate the policy ideas.

            There are always deadweight costs of immigration restriction, but some are worse than others. (E.g., “walls” in a world where immigrants come by air and overstay tourist visas…)

    • cassander says:

      (Republicans defunding essential government agencies so much that they start sucking),

      name one time this has happened, please…

      • MVDZ says:

        @cassander a quick Google search will yield a ton of results on the SEC. I can highly recommend interviews with William K. Black (Bill Black), an expert in financial regulation and prosecution. From memory, he goes into why the SEC was woefully understaffed in the 2000s in the run up to the financial crisis.
        I’m willing to say this is a bipartisan issue, though a lot of the sources I saw mentioned a Republican administration/Congress.

        • cassander says:

          The SEC budget more than doubled from 2000 to 2008.

          • MVDZ says:

            Good to know, bad example then.
            Anyway like I said in my PS, don’t want to go into examples too much. If you find this claim too partisan, feel free to focus on the other possible reasons I gave, like lobbying or culture, or come up with reasons yourself. Trading examples won’t yield a particularly interesting debate as far as I’m concerned.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think these cases probably exist, but that they will be hard to find from casual searching, because local government and government agencies routinely complain that they’re woefully underfunded and can’t do their jobs because of the unreasonable constraints of their budget. Without some digging, it will be hard to distinguish between the genuine underfunding of critical things and the strategic claims of underfunding as a strategy to get more money in their budget.

            [eta]

            The classic example of this is public schools. Public school administrators will always tell the public they are dangerously short of money and can’t educate the kids without more, even when their budget has outpaced inflation for the last 30 years.

            I suspect that some of this is pure posturing for bigger budgets, but often it’s also people in the government agency or whatever who take their agency’s work seriously and see all the important things they could do if only they had more money.

        • Telomerase says:

          We just went through the FDA banning all commercial and nonprofit PCR test kits for the first critical months of an epidemic. Then CDC pushed its own fake test kit into use (yes, “fake”, I used to run PCR at Mayo and the CDC test kit isn’t even for current machines [in addition to the whole “doesn’t work” thing]).

          CDC pushed hard to get people NOT to use masks, FEMA hadn’t bothered to restock the mask stockpile since H1N1… we’d all like to have some anti-plague defenses, but if we gave FDA and CDC more money, they’d just have worked harder to stop us.

          Before we do anything else, we have to stop the FDA from shutting down Mayo Clinic, John Hopkins, Roche, Co-Diagnostics etc. Then we can ask whether the FDA should get more than $6.6 billion per year, or the CDC $6.6 billion.

          I’d like to say yes, fund them more (along with the Army’s biodefense programs)… but would that help? Or would it just kill us all if we ever see a real bioweapon released?

        • I wouldn’t describe reducing the IRS budget from $14 billion to $12 billion (inflation adjusted) as “defunding it,” only as reducing its funding.

          • Telomerase says:

            I’ve seen credible plans for terraforming Mars (via asteroid impact) that cost less than $12 billion….

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            “Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic and CHEAP regarded this Mars with envious eyes.”

      • noyann says:

        I hope an Am J Public Health article on “History of US Presidential Assaults on Modern Environmental Health Protection” is not too CW.
        (Note: Figure 1 is not all of the story. And better not quibble whether the EPA is really ‘essential’, that may be too CW.)

    • matkoniecz says:

      You probably should ask in the precious open thread or wait for the next one.

      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.

    • aristides says:

      Please post this in a non CW thread, since I have a good response that includes that. I’ll give a brief response that is not CW I believe.

      I am libertarian leaning, but I actually love the job my state and county government does. I feel that those reps are much more approachable, and the government in general governs closer to my political view point. I chose to move to my state in large part because I liked how it was governed. All I want is the federal government to stop interfering with programs that the states should be running.

      • MVDZ says:

        That’s good to hear!
        Can you please explain what’s so Culture War-y about this thread? It seems like pretty dry stuff to me and so far everyone is very respectful. Am I missing some community standard?

        • matkoniecz says:

          (Republicans defunding essential government agencies so much that they start sucking)

          This alone likely trigger USA culture wars (Republicans vs Democrats)

        • albatross11 says:

          There’s an important distinction w.r.t. what level of government does something. If the level of government I mainly interact with is the city or county government, it’s pretty easy to move away if I think they’re too awful. That’s harder if it’s the federal government.

          Also, a lot of government programs end up being things where everyone is an involuntary customer. If I can’t stand the shitty service I get from my local Wal-Mart or the plumber I hire to fix a leaking pipe, I don’t have to keep doing business with them–I can find someone else. If I can’t stand the shitty service I get from my local DMV, I don’t have any alternatives available. That sets up a situation where there’s no escape valve from bad services–even if 90% of government programs where I’m effectively a customer work just fine, I’m likely to mostly notice the 10% where I have to stand in line for three hours to get a license renewed or something.

        • aristides says:

          I could (probably wouldn’t just for time reasons) write at least 5 paragraphs explaining my view of how the Democratic Party is the reason why the federal government is incompetent, another 3 paragraphs on why European and Asian governments are poor functioning on the metrics I care about, and you’ll notice I never stated which state I lived in, because I knew that lots of people hate the way my state governs, and it could start an argument.

          To be clear, I think your question was a good one to ask on a CW free thread if you took off the sentences about republicans and lobbyists. Asking these questions on CW free threads allow you to get nuanced discussion on questions close to CW but not CW, like Federalism. The disadvantage is you miss out on the other half of my response.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      1: I contest the premise that European countries are notably better-functioning democracies than the US (or my home of Canada, which is like Europe, several notches left of the US). But in theory yes, my objection to many government interventions is the ways in which they are consistently incompetent and I would object less if they were less so. I think the biggest problem with Western democracies is that the average person is stupid and so a correctly-functioning democracy will tend to select leaders for stupid reasons, so to flesh out what my hypothetical better-functioning democracy looks like, it’s less about structural reforms on funding or lobbying and more like dissolving the population to elect a smarter one.

      2. I have a novel fix for lobbying that I’m quite fond of. Personally I’m of the opinion that lobbying doesn’t really have big impacts on policy (serious question: if it did, would Google still be bound by California’s zoning regulations?), but even people thinking it’s a problem creates a problem of legitimacy, so let’s fix it. Pay politicians more. Ten million dollars a year for senators. A billion for the President. You can’t bribe a billionaire, at least not with the pocket change lobbyists throw around. It sounds like a lot of money, but it’s less than 0.1% of the federal budget and if you think lobbying has any negative effects at all, surely making the president unbribable would result in at least 0.1% better governance.

      • albatross11 says:

        If you think direct and indirect bribery is a major problem, then paying the president and congress and senior civil servants more would be a useful way around that. But if you think the main problem is more about raising money for campaigns, then it’s not clear how much that helps.

      • gbdub says:

        I think people seriously overestimate the amount of money “lobbyists throw around”.

        A lobbyist is basically just a person you pay to hang out in Washington and talk to important people on your behalf. Big companies and big organizations can afford plenty of very good lobbyists. They mostly don’t need to throw around money because they have baked in influence. A senator is gonna listen to what the second biggest employer, or the biggest union, or the organization representing a big block of single issue voters, wants, unless they want to be retired from office at the next election.

        That calculus isn’t going to change if you increase their pay (might make it worse, actually!). A politicians biggest desire is usually re-election, and pissing off the sorts of people who can afford lots of good lobbyists is a poor way to get elected. This is not necessarily corruption of the hundred dollar handshakes sort – these groups represent real constituencies.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          The signaling theory of lobbying: “Look at all this money we raised! Clearly we’re very important, you should listen to us.”

        • mitv150 says:

          The term “lobbyist” seems to have taken on significant negative valence and is often discussed in that way. Doubtless, there are examples of lobbyists that represent a net negative, but the blanket opprobrium for lobbyists does not seem helpful.

          Lobbyists do not, for the most part, throw tons of money at politicians. The major political incentive seems to be reelection and it’s not clear how paying politicians more can address that.

          As gbdub notes, lobbyists represent real constituencies. Important too, to remember that “big companies” and “big organizations” also represent real people and their interests. Those terms also tend to call to mind negative images, of oil companies or tobacco companies, etc. But “big organizations” here also means organizations formed for the purpose of representing constituent interests – does anyone think that civil rights advocacy groups, for example, don’t employ lobbyists?

      • the average person is stupid and so a correctly-functioning democracy will tend to select leaders for stupid reasons

        Are you familiar with the idea of rational ignorance? Even smart people can select leaders for stupid reasons if the voter knows that the effect of who he votes for on who gets elected is very close to zero, but the effect of who he supports on his interaction with the people around him is not.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I’ve never been quite satisfied with most attempts to describe self-interested voting behaviour, because it seems like the best option in most cases is to simply not bother voting. If someone asks you whether you supported [locally popular candidate], that’s the easiest lie in the world should you be interested in conformity.

          I think most voters do it either out of a mistaken belief that “your vote matters”, or because the “civic duty” propaganda is really good at creating obligation (and I’m glad it is: people acting irrational in this way is probably a key component of democracy working at all). If that represents a significant amount of the electorate, smart voters will make better selections than dumb voters.

          • J Mann says:

            IMHO, people who don’t vote are free riding on other people with their preferences who do vote.

            I don’t agree that declining to free ride is irrational – it’s a matter of preference, and IMHO a good one.

          • 10240 says:

            Do people feel like they have a civic duty, or a duty to their cause, to walk to the voting booth and check a candidate? Sure. Do people feel like they have a civic duty to study certain subjects for years so they can make a more informed vote? Much fewer people do.

            The bottom line: not only stupid people, but also most smart people are ignorant about the policy areas their vote influences.

          • My explanation of why most people vote goes along with my explanation of why sports teams are linked to cities or universities — the pleasures of partisanship are a consumption good. You don’t just go to a football team to watch athletes do something difficult and interesting, you go to cheer for your team — and you feel as though your cheering heartens them and makes them a little more likely to win.

            Every four years, a game is played out across the U.S. with the fate of the world at stake. You not only get to cheer for your team, you get to play on your team, even if in a tiny role, which makes it even better.

            If someone asks you whether you supported [locally popular candidate], that’s the easiest lie in the world should you be interested in conformity.

            Most people are not very good at concealing their feelings. It’s much easier to convince people that you are an enthusiastic supporter of X if you really are.

    • 10240 says:

      I’m European.

      1. I don’t think European states are well-functioning, with perhaps a few exceptions. (I don’t live in a well-functioning one). I’d rather live in one with a government as small as the US, or preferably much smaller.

      I don’t think that the US only works for the richest third. Egalitarianism reduces productivity to a point that nearly everyone ends up poorer. A while ago someone posted data about how every income quintile in the poorest US state was at least as well-off as the same quintile in the UK, with higher quintiles progressively better off. In Europe, Switzerland is perhaps the only country (except Lichtenstein) with a government as small as the US, and (not) coincidentally also one of the wealthiest. Also one of the most unequal, but its “poorest” is still better off than pretty much anywhere else.

      I don’t believe that more democracy necessarily makes things better. Much of the bad and illiberal economic policies I oppose is forced on the governments by the economically illiterate majority. (E.g. worker “protection” laws that make it difficult to lay off employees; as such, if no company is confident that it’ll need you for the foreseeable future, no one hires you. Yet they are impossible to get rid of in Southern Europe.) I think that rich people’s and companies’ preferences are much closer aligned with good economic policy than the majority’s preferences. (Hong Kong has functional constituencies: a large part of their parliament is elected by various professional and business groups. One could expect that it leads to terrible special interest politics, but it actually leads to a well-functioning laissez-faire system.)

      I’m both a deontological and a consequentalist libertarian: I think freedom and less government generally produces better outcomes, but I also put a large value on freedom itself, including economic freedom. As such, I wouldn’t support an interventionist government even if it was well-functioning.

      2. It does seem to me (as an outsider) that the American political system is rather dysfunctional. My impression is that a major problem is that power is divided between so many places that they can’t coordinate on anything: federal, state, local; executive, senate, house, legislative committees…

      How to fix it? Sticking to conventional systems, perhaps: effective state governments: unicameral elected legislature, with the legislature electing the executive. If a few legislators submit a bill, it always gets voted on (unless they withdraw it), and if it gets a majority, it’s law. Committees, filibusters, Mitch McConnells and whatnot can deliberate over it, and they can recommend a “no” vote, but they can’t block it. Combine this with a much more limited federal government.

      If we go for less conventional systems:
      — I’ve seen someone suggest sortition. It has the advantage that the legislators drawn by lot would have a non-negligible influence, so they would have more incentive to make informed decisions. That contrasts with the rational ignorance voters show in a representative democracy: they have too little influence for it to be worth studying policy.
      — Hong Kong-style functional constituencies.
      — Swiss-style semi-direct democracy. My expectation would be that it would lead to even worse populism, but in Switzerland it works well. My theory is that in representative democracies, people expect all sorts of generosity from the government, but they always blame the government (rather than their own demands) for the negative consequences; the opposition eggs them on. The Swiss, who ultimately make the decisions themselves, feel responsible for the costs as well.

      to outlawing donations by corporations and/or limiting the amount of money individuals can donate.

      These are the sort of things left-wingers, egalitarians tend to demand, I’m not sure how they relate to libertarians. I also see in Hungary how they can let the government to control the media by controlling its funding, and restricting the funding of political parties. If there were a few wealthy businessmen who didn’t depend on the government, and funded opposition media or campaigns, the propaganda landscape wouldn’t be so lopsided in favor of the government.

    • My guess is that small and fairly homogeneous northern European states work better, but I have never lived in any so could easily be mistaken.

      My fix is, first, to sharply reduce the amount to which decisions are made by government instead of by voluntary actions of individuals, and then to shift as much as possible down to local governments.

      That gets you some of the effect of the small and homogeneous European states. I don’t expect governments to work well in any context, but they should work better if the same things are in the interest of most people, most people have enough fellow feeling to care about their fellow citizens, and people understand each other reasonably well.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Libertarianish USian here, trying to stay CW neutral in response.

      I think the US has three classes of government problems:

      1. problems that basically any government has because of the kind of institution that it is. These are mitigated by culture in some places and by one-off historical accidents in others, but no place can be free of them for long and certainly the Northern EU countries are not free of them, and these are the most generally applicable argument for limiting government.

      2. problems that are caused by scale. The least-badly-functioning governments in the world all seem to be in jurisdictions with populations roughly in the 1-10 million range. This is true of US states as well: the governance of Utah, Minnesota, and Massachusetts would IMO stack up well next to similarly sized EU countries, and note that these three have wildly different party preferences. I would not expect any government with a 100M+ populace to be anything but badly run, and I think the experience of actually existing governments with populations this size bears me out.

      3. problems caused by polarization. For a government of any size to function relatively well, you need a supermajority consensus among the population on basic facts and values. The US is unusual among Western countries in the degree to which it lacks that consensus, and arguably has been for 50 years, and this is a big part of what makes the federal government so bad, and in particular what leads to the perception that things have kept getting worse since the 1980s. Notably, this problem is much less severe in all of the relatively-well-governed US states I mentioned.

      As to solutions:

      1. Devolution/federalism has the nice property that it mitigates all three classes of problem above: the first by introducing Tiebout competition which tends to improve governments better than democratic voice; the second by limiting scale to something manageable; the third by making it more likely that the governed populace shares the necessary consensus. So yeah, devolving much more power toward metro-scale governments (a single significant city and its hinterland is often a natural unit of relatively-effective governance), and maintaining larger-scale confederations mostly for common defense and customs/free-movement union and that sort of thing, is a major mitigation.

      2. Within governance units, narrowing the scope of government to more strongly prioritize the provision of public goods, in the economic sense (nonrivalrous and nonexcludable goods) and not the looser sense of “anything that seems to be broadly in the public interest”. Public goods provision is where government has the largest comparative advantage over other institutional types, and most existing governments underprovide public goods that are very hard for the private sector to step in and provide instead (recent notorious examples including clean air and pandemic preparation!) even as they spend enormous resources on doing things that are not public goods provision. Public goods provision is also where government is most likely to contribute positively to long term sustainable economic growth, and I am persuaded by Tyler Cowen’s argument in _Stubborn Attachments_ that that is the most important thing for long term human flourishing.

      3. Government reforms which moderate and temper the transitory sentiments of voters. Garett Jones’ recent “10% less democracy” is a good sourcebook for these.

    • Furslid says:

      1. I don’t really care how the government comes to its interventions. If the intervention is good, it’s good. If it’s bad, it’s bad. It doesn’t matter if it comes from a democracy or a dictatorship. Even functioning democracies can make really stupid decisions. I’m not confident that the form of government changes what the government ends up doing.

      2a. Prisoners are not counted for determining congressional representation. Nor is anyone who is disenfranchised because of a prior crime. This twists the states’ arm about lowering incarceration.
      2b. End federal drug prohibition. States can make drugs illegal, but this is not required.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I’m not a libertarian, but I’ve talked to quite a few (both in real life and on the Intertubes). One consistent theme that runs through their argument is that “the government has no right to do X, therefore asking how it can do X better is a moot point”. For many of them, X is basically “anything”; for others, X is “almost anything except for national defence”. Failures of the government to do any specific thing are seen as a given; successes inevitably turn out to be failures once you take all the factors into account, or alternatively as the result of actions by some heroic individuals who’d succeeded despite governmental intervention, not because of it.

      Just to clarify, I’m not trying to strawman anyone’s position here. Rather, I think that the difference between libertarians and non-libertarians is one of the core values and philosophy; like all such differences, it is IMO irreconcilable.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        I’m not sure to what extent I agree with you about this being a value difference; there’s definitely some degree of that, but I think empirical questions of “how good is government at certain tasks, or at doing things in general?” and “what sort of things will an empowered government attempt to do?” definitely play a role. I have a decently libertarian bent. But if you showed me convincing evidence that a marginally more empowered government would use that power to effectively do things whose consequences I and a supermajority of the population approved of, I would change my mind and approve of giving the government more power.

        This does, to some extent, factor out into “what things is the government trying to do,” “do I want them to do those things,” “is the government good at doing those things,” and “do government actions, successful or not, have significant negative side effects.” I’d say all of those except the second are empirical questions, though we should probably postpone discussion of them to a fractional OT.

      • As best as I can tell, not only libertarians but most other people believe in a curious coincidence such that the system they believe is morally most justified also happens to produce the best result. That makes it hard to tell which half of that is responsible for their belief in that system.

        Have you encountered libertarians who agree with you that unless government does X, terrible things will happen — that without compulsory government funded schooling, large parts of the population will be unable to read?

        • Purplehermann says:

          If you mean basic reading, phones/social media would probably take care of that. If you mean good reading comprehension, large parts of the population are incapable

        • Bugmaster says:

          I have met at least one libertarian who agreed with me on national defence; i.e., without a government of some sort coordinating and maintaining a modern standing army (with all the aircraft carriers that implies), your country probably wouldn’t last long on the world stage. Of course, I have met others who disagreed, as well.

          That said, most libertarians don’t believe in schooling of any kind other than home schooling and possibly apprenticeships; many (thought perhaps not most) believe that compulsory schooling is essentially a plot designed to keep the population pliable and enthralled.

          That’s just my personal anecdata, though, not meant to be a representative sample.

          • Did the libertarian who agreed with you on national defense also think it was wrong to have national defense? I should have been clearer. What I was looking for was someone who believed both that it was wrong to do X and that if we didn’t do X terrible things would happen.

            Absent that, you can’t tell how much of the motivation is the deontological argument and how much the belief about consequences.

            most libertarians don’t believe in schooling of any kind other than home schooling and possibly apprenticeships

            You have a very odd sample of libertarians. A fair number of the ones I know are professors. Many libertarians, myself among them, are unhappy with the public school system, but although some, myself among them, approve of home schooling, I think there are very few who have any general objection to (private) schools.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            OIC; no, the national defence guy did not think it was morally wrong to have a standing army strictly for defensive purposes; he also thought that having a government who would maintain (as opposed to private citizens doing so) it is a necessary evil.

            You have a very odd sample of libertarians.

            Not gonna argue with you there ! I don’t personally know any libertarian professors (other than yourself, obviously).

            Regarding schooling, the sentiments I’ve heard most often is that public schooling is basically an indoctrination mill. Private schooling could theoretically work, but in practice, it would be impossible to prevent it from turning into an indoctrination mill over time. Generally speaking, the libertarians I’ve talked to believe that raising children is a very important job; too important to be outsourced to any external organization, no matter how well-meaning. Once again, I’m not endorsing this opinion, nor am I claiming that it’s representative of all libertarians, I’m just relaying what I heard.

          • Garrett says:

            > Private schooling could theoretically work, but in practice, it would be impossible to prevent it from turning into an indoctrination mill over time.

            There’s a range of options here. On one side you have compulsory government-run, government-directed, government-funded schooling. On the other end you have “no schooling or guidance from the government – if you learn anything it should be because you think it’s a good idea”.

            There are other options in the middle. These could include combinations of:
            * A voucher system. Parents pick from competing schools and get government funding to attend. Plus various options for how to handle cost-savings.
            * Relaxed curriculum mandates. Whether $CONTROVERSIAL_SUBJECT is covered in class can be determined at the local class/school/board/city/whatever level.
            * HS diploma granting being separate from the school you attend. Eg. you take a test(s) which grants the diploma. So whatever schooling system exists can’t fake everything.
            * Relaxed credentialing for teachers.

            Etc. Etc.

            Related note: I think that people have a human right to buy/own functional nuclear weapons, but I believe that the consequences for not restricting this would be very, very bad.

          • Generally speaking, the libertarians I’ve talked to believe that raising children is a very important job; too important to be outsourced to any external organization, no matter how well-meaning.

            I expect libertarians are more likely to have that attitude than the average, but I think where it comes from is having views, political, religious, or other, far from the current consensus. If you believe that a school is going to teach your kids things, as part of what everyone knows and is sure of, that you are pretty sure are false, that’s a reason not to send your kids there.

            A related reason is strongly preferring your family culture to the outside culture, in particular the part in schools. My (not home schooled) wife’s comment on teenagers is that she has been younger than that and she has been older than that but she hasn’t been that age. Our daughter had a close friend from when they were small children. They drifted apart when the friend became a teen and she didn’t.

          • Randy M says:

            Our daughter had a close friend from when they were small children. They drifted apart when the friend became a teen and she didn’t.

            I think this is happening to our oldest right now. Her friend is rushing towards the trappings of adulthood that accompany teenagehood–boyfriends, celebrity gossip, fitting it, etc.–and our daughter is quickly finding they have little in common.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Garrett:
            I’m not a libertarian, so it might not surprise you that my own opinion is diametrically opposed to yours. I think that some form of mandatory, government-run (or at least government-certified) schooling is important — because it’s critical for a modern society to have a population that is 100% literate (+- epsilon). In the modern world, being literate means more than just being able to puzzle out street signs; it means being able to read and write well enough to at least skim voter pamphlets; to know enough arithmetic to understand basic finances; to know enough about basic science to avoid falling for simple hoaxes; and to maintain some baseline level of physical fitness. This is the bare minimum; the average person should know a lot more.

            FWIW, speaking as an average-IQ individual, my own high school curriculum was actually fairly adequate. It exposed me to many different subjects that I’ve never deigned to explore on my own. Some of them I hated and still hate; some of them I warmed up to; and some I found surprisingly useful later in life. Was high school an idealized learning environment for me ? No. If I were a truly gifted child, I probably would’ve found it a total loss. But I think it largely accomplished what it was supposed to do.

            To briefly address your bullet points:

            * Vouchers: the voucher-eligible schools would have to be certified in some way, which does mean more government control.
            * Relaxed mandates: Who decides if a subject is “controversial” ? Is the age (or shape !) of the Earth controversial ?
            * High School diploma: AFAIK you can already take the test and get a diploma without finishing high school — am I missing something ?
            * Less credentialing for teachers: I disagree, I think we need more “credentialing”; that is, we need to make sure that teachers are on average more competent than they currently are. Obviously, their salaries and benefits should be increased accordingly.

          • Randy M says:

            In the modern world, being literate means more than just being able to puzzle out street signs; it means being able to read and write well enough to at least skim voter pamphlets; to know enough arithmetic to understand basic finances; to know enough about basic science to avoid falling for simple hoaxes; and to maintain some baseline level of physical fitness. This is the bare minimum; the average person should know a lot more.

            Being literate may or may not mean being able to do this, but these life events happening is obviously not a certain result of literacy, given our voting rate, consumer debt, and high rates of obesity.

          • albatross11 says:

            How big a problem is it for someone’s future if they, say, just take the GED at 14 and pass?

          • because it’s critical for a modern society to have a population that is 100% literate (+- epsilon).

            We have compulsory schooling, most of it produced by government. We don’t have a population that is 100% literate even in the literal sense of the term, and nothing close to that in your more demanding sense. So why do you assume that a government run school system is the way to achieve your objective?

            It is essential that everyone have enough to eat, desirable that everyone have good nutrition. Do you conclude that all food production should be under government control, from farm to restaurant? That experiment has been done, with negative results.

            More generally, why would you assume that government production is the best way of producing something?

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            More generally, why would you assume that government production is the best way of producing something?

            This is an outright strawman of my position. I’ve never said anything close to this, nor do I secretly believe it. Moving on:

            We have compulsory schooling, most of it produced by government. We don’t have a population that is 100% literate even in the literal sense of the term…

            Well, yes, that’s why I added that “epsilon”. Developed nations (ours included) have a literacy rate of 99%. Admittedly, 1% is a lot more than “epsilon”, so I may have been sloppy — mea culpa. Some people could never learn to read and write, for various biological reasons, and I should not have undercounted them.

            The difference between basic schooling and nutrition is that there’s no consensus on which nutrition is best, nor is there even such a thing as best nutrition for everyone. Some people like spicy food, some are lactose-intolerant, some are just fat (myself included), etc. If the government tried consolidating all food production under its control, the results would be disastrous.

            But, I hear you saying, schooling is actually the same way ! Some people prefer liberal arts, some prefer science, some learn faster, some are visual or auditory learners, etc. All of this is true, and I absolutely agree that private colleges should exist… which they do.

            This is why I explicitly mentioned basic schooling. In order to learn anything at all, you have to be able to read and write. In order to pick your favorite cuisine, you have to be alive in the first place, which means you need to eat something. Our government isn’t great at ensuring either of these conditions, but it’s better than nothing. The approach is different — public schools in one case, food stamps and (largely private) soup kitchens in the other — and we can argue about which is better.

            You seem to have this implicit notion that, if public schools were abolished tomorrow, we would enter a new renaissance age of culture and learning. In practice, many people would just fall back on Jesus-oriented homeschooling (one book is all you need !); others would try to juggle homeschooling and full-time work, with sad yet predictable results; and yes, others would send their gifted children to elite private schools, thus supercharging their educations. I believe that, on average, the outcome would be much worse than the (admittedly, quite bad) situation than the one we have now.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, yes, that’s why I added that “epsilon”. Developed nations (ours included) have a literacy rate of 99%.

            The contemporary United States of America does not have a literacy rate of 99% by your standard. We barely break 80% by the “read a newspaper or complete a job application” standard; I doubt we’re even close to that by the “not fall for simple scientific hoax” standard. If as you say 99% functional literacy is “critical”, then we critically need something other than what we have.

            What we have, is mostly government-run and almost entirely government-certified schooling. So, something other than that would be…?

          • Telomerase says:

            (?) I know a lot of libertarians, most of their school preferences would be:
            1. private school
            2. nice suburban public school
            3. home school
            4. most real public schools

            That’s not any different than most people’s preferences. It’s not different than the “socialist*” Netherlands, Denmark, or Swedish systems… all of which have massive school-choice programs and heavy use of private schools. The Netherlands has had its system since 1915, and most students there are in private schools.

            *Those countries aren’t socialist, of course. But ‘murricans tend to think that they are 😉

          • Bugmaster says:

            @John Schilling:

            We barely break 80% by the “read a newspaper or complete a job application” standard;

            Is that true ? I’m under the impression that most people could read a newspaper, assuming that newspapers still existed (which is still the case for now, though maybe not for much longer). Do you have a source ?

            What we have, is mostly government-run and almost entirely government-certified schooling. So, something other than that would be…?

            This is a false dichotomy. By analogy, just because evolution is not 100% accurate, that does not mean that creationism must be true.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Telomerase:
            I think we have already established that my sample of libertarians is far from representative 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you have a source?

            “At the same time, 19 percent of adults cannot read a newspaper, much less complete a job application, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”

            According to the Washington Post, which links to a primary source if you need to check it out.

          • ana53294 says:

            1. private school
            2. nice suburban public school
            3. home school
            4. most real public schools

            You forgot to add 5, a boarding school.

            But they’re so out of the pale most peole would never even consider them, libertarians or no.

          • DeWitt says:

            The Netherlands has had its system since 1915, and most students there are in private schools.

            I’m sorry, what?

            I’ve lived here all my life, and what we call private schools are a very small part of education here. What definition of private school are you using that you dispute this? What are your sources on most of our students being in private schools?

          • Aapje says:

            @Telomerase & DeWitt

            There are basically three types of schools in The Netherlands.

            1. Schools that are run and funded by the government (openbaar onderwijs), where ~29% of Dutch kids go.

            2. Schools that are run by a private foundation or association, but funded by the government, where the vast majority of Dutch kids go (bijzonder onderwijs). These are typically religious, but can also have a particular educational method (like Montessori). This is very similar to a charter school.

            3. Schools that are run and funded privately (particulier onderwijs). These private schools are very rare.

          • albatross11 says:

            The boarding schools I know of in the US are mostly military academies. My mom and stepdad worked for one for the last years of their careers, and the mix of students was something like:

            a. Foreign kids (notably from China and Mexico) from very wealthy families, who were being sent to get a good education and become fluent (and often accentless) in English. Sometimes I think part of the goal was also getting the kids out of the line of fire of any local troubles the parents might have with gangs or the local government, or away from risk of crime or civil disturbances/revolutions/regime change.

            b. US kids from wealthy families who have gotten into a lot of trouble or don’t get along with their parents. Often, parents are sending their kids to a military academy as a last-ditch effort to get them straightened out before they end up in prison. (I know two families, well-off but not rich, who did this–in one case, it worked, in the other, the kid overdosed and died anyway, on his third or fourth school/rehab/etc.) Occasionally, it’s rich parents who just can’t be arsed, or rich divorcees whose new husband/wife doesn’t like the older kid from the first marriage.

            I think some foreign parents had the same motivations as most Americans (dealing with troublesome/troubled kids), and some American parents had reasons more like the foreign parents, or reasons like the parents died in a car wreck and the childless uncle who ended up with the kids didn’t know what else to do with them.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            Honestly I’m surprised it isn’t higher…but it doesn’t really say much about literacy. I’ve been reading adult novels since I was 7, and was an avid reader for decades. I probably haven’t read a book in 3 years*…combination of lack of time and the fact that all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked (I have to go looking to find a new book I want to read).

            *Unless you count Unsong which I read ~2 years ago.

          • You seem to have this implicit notion that, if public schools were abolished tomorrow, we would enter a new renaissance age of culture and learning.

            Where did I suggest that? We aren’t in such a world at present, so don’t have to enter one for the change to be an improvement.

            For some evidence on what a world without compulsory free public schooling is like, you might want to read Education and the Industrial Revolution by E. G. West. Early 19th century England was a much poorer society than we are, yet did rather better than your imaginary version of a future America without public schooling — roughly speaking as well as contemporary Prussia, with compulsory universal public schooling, did.

            and yes, others would send their gifted children to elite private schools, thus supercharging their educations.

            I expect most people would send their kids to non-elite private schools. Even at present, elite private schools are a small part of all private schools — on average, private schools cost less than public schools (tuition vs money from taxes), not more. And that’s in a world where a private school has to be enough better than a public school to make up for the subsidy of eleven or twelve thousand dollars a year per student that the latter has.

            You don’t think governments are better at producing things, so why should they be better at producing schooling?

            In practice, many people would just fall back on Jesus-oriented homeschooling (one book is all you need !)

            Do you think that’s what most home schooling looks like? Do you assume most home schooling parents are themselves uneducated? Home schooling primarily for religious reasons? Such data as exist support neither claim.

            When our home unschooled daughter applied to St. Olaf’s they suggested that she should apply for their scholarship program because they had found that home schooled students were sometimes particularly well qualified.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            Do you assume most home schooling parents are themselves uneducated?

            Short answer, yes. Long answer, most parents have an average education level (by definition); additionally, their education is not broad enough to cater to the potential needs and interests of their child. For example, if the parents are world-class historians, and their child is interested in computer science, that child is on its own. Additionally, just being educated in something does not automatically confer the ability to teach it to others — especially to children. And this is assuming that the parents would even want their child to step outside of their prescribed path in life, of course.

            You don’t think governments are better at producing things, so why should they be better at producing schooling ?

            Like many libertarians, you seem to have a rather binary view of economic systems. Governments are bad, free markets are good, the rest is just details. But I believe that the governments (or other centralized systems) are better than laisseiz-faire free markets at producing some things: specifically, at producing things whose payoff is diffuse (i.e., it doesn’t benefit the provider substantially more than it benefits everyone else), and/or very long-term. Basic education — again, note that I said “basic” — does IMO belong in this category. Having a population of people who are educated enough to choose their own path in life benefits everyone; but it doesn’t benefit anyone specifically.

            BTW, pure scientific research is another thing that the government is better at producing, or at least financing. The ROI on LIGO is entirely negative, you know ?

          • Long answer, most parents have an average education level (by definition); additionally, their education is not broad enough to cater to the potential needs and interests of their child.

            The average education of parents who home school is about the same as that of parents who don’t — a little higher the first time it was surveyed, a little lower the second.

            The parents don’t have to be experts in everything their children are interested in. The parents can point their children at books and help the children with them. Nowadays they can help the children find material online.

            If the parents happen to be enthusiastic experts in something, it is likely that the children will find it of interest, since having people close to you interested in something tends to make you interested in it — that was true for me, my children and my grandson. I only discovered that geology was interesting when I fell in love with a geologist. And an enthusiastic parent is going to be a better teacher, a better inspirer, than a teacher teaching something because it is his job to a room full of kids most of whom don’t want to learn it.

            One of the things wrong with the conventional K-12 model is that it implicitly assumes that, out of all human knowledge, there is some subset about the right size to fill K-12 that everyone should at least pretend to learn. That’s nonsense. There are far more things than that that are worth learning, far fewer that it is important for everyone to learn. With home schooling, better home unschooling, the parent can make sure the kid learns a few things almost all parents know, such as how to read, things that almost everyone needs, and help and encourage the kid in learning the things he finds of interest. Children are much better at learning things they want to know than at learning things of no interest to them that an adult has told them they will need to know at some time in the indefinite future.

            But I believe that the governments (or other centralized systems) are better than laisseiz-faire free markets at producing some things: specifically, at producing things whose payoff is diffuse (i.e., it doesn’t benefit the provider substantially more than it benefits everyone else), and/or very long-term.

            Have you looked at Public Choice theory, the branch of economics that deals with government? My guess from what you write is that you are implicitly assuming a philosopher king government, doing good and wise things because they are good and wise. A more realistic model sees government behavior as the outcome of a political marketplace. To defend your claim, you have to show why it is in the interest of government actors to produce such goods.

            Basic education — again, note that I said “basic” — does IMO belong in this category. Having a population of people who are educated enough to choose their own path in life benefits everyone; but it doesn’t benefit anyone specifically.

            On the contrary, having my child so educated benefits him and me. There may also be some benefit to others, but education is primarily a private good, not a public good.

            On the other hand, informed voting is very close to a pure public good. If you spend time and effort studying issues and candidates in order to vote for the right presidential candidate the benefit, if any — perhaps one chance in ten million that your vote is decisive — is divided among the entire population. The result is that voters are rationally ignorant — the value of the information to the individual voter is much less than the cost — and voting behavior looks more like fans cheering at a football game than individuals buying things on the market.

            Yet it is majority voting that is supposed to drive the government into doing the right things.

            Try making the same assumptions about people’s behavior on the political market that lead you to conclude that the private market does a bad job of producing some things and try to reason from those assumptions to the conclusions you want.

            BTW, pure scientific research is another thing that the government is better at producing, or at least financing. The ROI on LIGO is entirely negative, you know ?

            You might want to take a look at The Economic Laws of Scientific Research by Terence Kealey. The author is a biochemist who offers empirical evidence against your claim, as well as an interesting explanation of the mechanics of private production of basic research.

          • John Schilling says:

            For example, if the parents are world-class historians, and their child is interested in computer science, that child is on its own.

            No, that child is not “on its own”. That child is being raised by parents who, as world-class historians, probably have at least marginally above-average computer skills, meaning skills well above those of even a precocious young child. Who will be motivated to improve their own comp-sci aptitude for the sake of the child. Who probably have somewhere in their extended family or social circle an uncle or whatnot with above-average knowledge of the field. Who are at least loosely tied in with other local home-schooling parents to the same end. Who are likely willing to pay for a tutor in any subject their child is particularly interested and talented in, and to send that child to specialized summer camps, etc. And who almost certainly have an internet connection, such that by the time the child has even begun to outgrow all of the above resources he or she will be in regular online contact with a community of enthusiasts whose combined ability and willingness to educate newcomers vastly outstrips that of any government-run school.

            “Child is on its own” is such a ridiculous caricature of home-schooling that it is difficult for me to believe you are arguing in good faith here.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DevidFriedman:

            The average education of parents who home school is about the same as that of parents who don’t

            I was comparing homeschooling parents to professional teachers, not to other parents. I will fully grant you that the quality of modern professional teachers is… highly variable at best; but at least this is a parameter we can in some way manipulate.

            The parents don’t have to be experts in everything their children are interested in. The parents can point their children at books and help the children with them.

            Yes, that is what I meant by “the child is on its own”. Some children can learn independently from books; some cannot. I was one of the latter.

            having people close to you interested in something tends to make you interested in it

            Oh, absolutely ! That’s why it’s important to have a place where children can go to interact with many enthusiastic experts in many different fields. I will absolutely grant you that average parents are better teachers than incompetent teachers. Average parents are also better plumbers than incompetent plumbers; does this mean that everyone should be his own plumber ?

            One of the things wrong with the conventional K-12 model is that it implicitly assumes that, out of all human knowledge, there is some subset about the right size to fill K-12 that everyone should at least pretend to learn.

            Why is this an absurd idea ? Ultimately, the best outcome of a K-12 student is to learn a). basic literacy/numeracy/history; b). how to learn; and c). exposure to a wide variety of disciplines. This would empower the student to go on learning on his own, in the field of his choosing.

            My guess from what you write is that you are implicitly assuming a philosopher king government

            This is, once again, a strawman of my position, but I think it’s understandable. Most libertarians see the government as a sort of squatting alien entity, completely divorced from the actions of enlightened individuals. Personally, though, I see the government as a giant corporate monopoly that we all agreed to hire to perform certain tasks which private corporations proved inadequate to deliver. Yes, it has problems just like ordinary monopolies do; however, assuming the government is some for of a democracy, we have much more control over it than we would over ordinary monopolies. You are right about the “political market”, but I think you and I have vastly different views on what it looks like.

            education is primarily a private good, not a public good.

            I disagree. Education in general is a public good. Vocational training in a specific field is a private good.

            If you spend time and effort studying issues and candidates in order to vote for the right presidential candidate the benefit, if any … is divided among the entire population.

            I agree, and I also agree that voting for the President of the USA, specifically, is nearly pointless unless you live in a swing state. What does this have to do with my argument, though ? Ok, yes, the President does affect educational policy to some extent, but that’s really not his main job.

            You might want to take a look at The Economic Laws of Scientific Research by Terence Kealey.

            I haven’t read the book yet, so obviously I can’t comment. Still, I I were president of GiantConstructionCo, and I had two choices on how to spend a billion dollars — build LIGO, or build new factories to make my goods 5% cheaper — I know which I’d pick.

          • ec429 says:

            Personally, though, I see the government as a giant corporate monopoly that we all agreed to hire to perform certain tasks which private corporations proved inadequate to deliver.

            “We all agreed”? Show me the contract, and show me where any of us now living signed it. (Even if we had, you’d still have a duress problem, but the idea that the government actually has the consent of the governed can’t even pass that first hurdle.)

            Education in general is a public good.

            How, exactly, do other people get most of the benefit from me being able to read a novel, balance my chequebook, write a poem, find Greenland on a map, or understand the causes and consequences of the American Civil War? I see only three ways: (1) to the extent that my education makes me productive, some of that productivity is taxed; (2) being educated makes me (supposedly) a more informed and thoughtful voter; (3) my friends get to have someone interesting to talk to. But (1) doesn’t favour general over vocational education in the way that you seem to, (2) seems (to me) to be far smaller than the value to me of a rich and fulfilling intellectual life, and (3) is a reciprocal trade — I befriend them because they’re interesting for me to talk to — so not an externality.

            Why do you consider non-vocational education a public good? What am I not seeing?

            Average parents are also better plumbers than incompetent plumbers; does this mean that everyone should be his own plumber?

            If plumbers were assigned and funded by a government bureaucracy, captured by the Plumbers’ Union, who prevent incompetent plumbers from being fired, then sure, homeplumbing would be the obvious choice for anyone who couldn’t afford the private plumbing sector, small and beleaguered by regulations designed by state-plumber lobbyists to make it hard for them to compete. Which would all, of course, be orthogonal to the question of whether ‘unplumbing’ leads to more or fewer leaks and smells than ‘factory-model plumbing’, except that the state plumbing sector only offers the latter because it’s easier for them to organise and measure.

            … did I take the analogy too far?

          • having people close to you interested in something tends to make you interested in it

            Oh, absolutely ! That’s why it’s important to have a place where children can go to interact with many enthusiastic experts in many different fields. I will absolutely grant you that average parents are better teachers than incompetent teachers. Average parents are also better plumbers than incompetent plumbers; does this mean that everyone should be his own plumber ?

            You seem to be assuming that the average teacher is selected for being enthusiastically interested in his field, and continues to be that for forty years of teaching children most of whom don’t what to learn what he teaches. There are probably teachers like that, but they are pretty rare.

            One of the things wrong with the conventional K-12 model is that it implicitly assumes that, out of all human knowledge, there is some subset about the right size to fill K-12 that everyone should at least pretend to learn.

            Why is this an absurd idea ? Ultimately, the best outcome of a K-12 student is to learn a). basic literacy/numeracy/history; b). how to learn; and c). exposure to a wide variety of disciplines. This would empower the student to go on learning on his own, in the field of his choosing.

            Since the standard K-12 model is that you learn things by being told them by your teacher or reading them in the book you have been assigned, it does a much worse job of teaching children how to learn than the experience of going out and learning something that you actually want to know.

            History is interesting and useful, but a kid really interested in Roman history will learn more that is useful for himself than a kid learning American history because he is going to have to pass a test on it at the end of the quarter — and is free to forget it thereafter.

            Algebra is useful to some people, useless to most. Ditto geometry. Ditto most things that are taught in K-12. But lots of things that are rarely taught and almost never well are also useful to some people — statistics, probability theory, economics, evolutionary biology, … The things taught, with the exception of reading and arithmetic, are mostly no more worth learning than many things not taught. And people learn things a lot better when they are things they want to learn.

            When my home unschooled daughter went to Oberlin, she observed that when a class was cancelled she was disappointed and the other students were glad. Learning stuff in classes wasn’t something they wanted to do — they had been taught for twelve years that it was something you did because someone made you do it. It was the price they had to pay for four years of parties and socializing with their peers.

            My guess from what you write is that you are implicitly assuming a philosopher king government

            This is, once again, a strawman of my position, but I think it’s understandable. Most libertarians see the government as a sort of squatting alien entity, completely divorced from the actions of enlightened individuals. Personally, though, I see the government as a giant corporate monopoly that we all agreed to hire to perform certain tasks which private corporations proved inadequate to deliver. Yes, it has problems just like ordinary monopolies do; however, assuming the government is some for of a democracy, we have much more control over it than we would over ordinary monopolies. You are right about the “political market”, but I think you and I have vastly different views on what it looks like.

            You deny assuming a philosopher king government, but none of what you wrote even starts to explain why you expect government to make good choices, which is essential for your argument. What is your theory of what determines outcomes on the political market, and how do you reason from it to your conclusions about what governments will do.

            A government has less incentive to act well than a private monopoly, because a private monopoly can only get money from people if they choose to buy what it produces and can only get labor from people if they choose to work for it. A government has neither constraint. Voting in a population large enough so that you know your vote has no effect isn’t a substitute.

            education is primarily a private good, not a public good.

            I disagree. Education in general is a public good. Vocational training in a specific field is a private good.

            Argument by assertion — explain. Do you believe that knowing how to read and do arithmetic does not benefit the person who acquires those skills? That’s what you are claiming.

            If you spend time and effort studying issues and candidates in order to vote for the right presidential candidate the benefit, if any … is divided among the entire population.

            I agree, and I also agree that voting for the President of the USA, specifically, is nearly pointless unless you live in a swing state. What does this have to do with my argument, though ? Ok, yes, the President does affect educational policy to some extent, but that’s really not his main job.

            Your argument requires that the governments running schools have some reason to do it well. The usual argument for that is democracy. But rational ignorance applies at the state level as well as the federal level. So why would you expect the political actors in charge of the schools to act like benevolent despots instead of self-interested actors just like those in the private market — with a very different set of constraints, since they don’t have to sell to willing customers?

            Do you have a theory of what determines government decisions and why? So far it looks like only an assumed conclusion — that if government can do something good, whether with schooling or basic research, it will.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @ec429, DavidFriedman:
            (your comments are similar, so I’ll consolidate my replies in one post)

            You seem to be assuming that the average teacher is selected for being enthusiastically interested in his field…

            You are shifting the goalposts a little, most likely on accident. You are now saying, “current public school teachers are universally bad, so everyone should homeschool”; whereas before you were saying “public school teachers can never be good a priori, so everyone should homeschool”. I was arguing against the second, stronger claim; but I would disagree even with the first one. Not all public teachers are bad; anecdotally, I’ve met many good ones myself. Furthermore, in some ideal world, it is at least possible to allow the majority of children access to a wide variety of enthusiastic and competent teachers; this cannot be accomplished with home schooling, in principle (barring some sort of polyamory, I suppose).

            Since the standard K-12 model is that you learn things by being told them by your teacher or reading them in the book you have been assigned

            My own K-12 education included labs, art projects, and even PE; I’m not sure about yours. That said, how would you propose to teach literature or math without reading books and doing exercises ?

            History is interesting and useful, but a kid really interested in Roman history will learn more that is useful for himself than a kid learning American history…

            How would a kid learn enough about Roman/American/Babylonian/Chinese/Russian history to develop an interest ? One easy answer is, “a World History course”… which is what they teach at schools (well, or at least they used to, back in my day). Furthermore, I’d argue that for a person living in America, learning American history is useful, but that’s a separate argument.

            Algebra is useful to some people, useless to most. Ditto geometry.

            See, statements like these is exactly why homeschooling is a bad idea. On the surface level, algebra and geometry are useful to anyone who wants to get any kind of an engineering-related job — and yes, even jobs such as “car mechanic” are rapidly becoming engineering-related. But on a deeper level, algebra and especially geometry, when taught properly, are instrumental in developing general critical thinking skills that IMO every person should have. Well, I suppose this is another assumption on my part; I’m not sure where you place the importance of critical thinking on your list of priorities…

            lots of things that are rarely taught and almost never well are also useful to some people — statistics, probability theory, economics, evolutionary biology

            How are you going to teach probability and statistics without algebra ?

            but none of what you wrote even starts to explain why you expect government to make good choices … A government has less incentive to act well than a private monopoly, because a private monopoly can only get money from people if they choose to buy what it produces and can only get labor from people if they choose to work for it.

            Being a monopoly means denying people a choice; that’s kind of the whole point. Note that public schools are actually better in this regard. If you live in an EduCo town, you can send your children to an EduCo school, or homeschool them, those are your only choices. If you live in a US government town with an EduCo monopoly, you can send your children to public school, or EduCo, or homeschool.

            In any case, your view of government seems to be entirely focused on national-level Presidential elections. I agree that they are mostly pointless; however, local elections on the county/city/district level are not. You can affect e.g. educational policy by a surprising amount, should you choose to vote.

            One reason why public schools are better at providing basic education (a public good) than private ones is that they don’t need to make money; more on this below.

            Do you believe that knowing how to read and do arithmetic does not benefit the person who acquires those skills?

            I believe that teaching everyone (or rather, as many people as possible) how to read and do arithmetic benefits everyone, but it is very difficult to monetize. That’s what public goods are: items that benefit everyone if most people have them, yet do not benefit any individual party sufficiently to allow for competition. In a corporate system, having a population of people who are empowered to study and work at any corporation of their choosing is pointless; what’s useful is having a pool of workers who would be ideal employees for your own corporation.

            So why would you expect the political actors in charge of the schools to act like benevolent despots

            Because they can very easily get voted out when they do; in fact, this does routinely happen. Also, you keep using loaded words like “benevolent despots”; this is understandable, but keep in mind that not everyone shares your baseline belief that government is automatically evil.

            that if government can do something good, whether with schooling or basic research, it will

            Once again, this is a strawman of my position. I’m saying that a government monopoly is better equipped — by contrast with the free market — at providing services whose benefits are diffuse, and/or whose payoffs are very long-term. The free market is ill equipped to provide such services because there’s no immediate monetary feedback mechanism associated with doing so. I’m not saying, nor do I secretly believe, that the government is better at providing every kind of service.

          • @Bugmaster:
            @ec429, DavidFriedman:
            I wrote:

            You seem to be assuming that the average teacher is selected for being enthusiastically interested in his field…

            You replied:

            You are shifting the goalposts a little, most likely on accident. You are now saying, “current public school teachers are universally bad, so everyone should homeschool”;

            How do you get “universally bad” from:

            You seem to be assuming that the average teacher is selected for being enthusiastically interested in his field, and continues to be that for forty years of teaching children most of whom don’t what to learn what he teaches. There are probably teachers like that, but they are pretty rare.

            Do you know what the word “average” means? If teachers were universally bad, how could there probably be good teachers, as I just asserted?

            You wrote:

            Furthermore, in some ideal world, it is at least possible to allow the majority of children access to a wide variety of enthusiastic and competent teachers; this cannot be accomplished with home schooling, in principle (barring some sort of polyamory, I suppose).

            There are two possible arguments you can make, for this issue or others. One is that we know government can be expected to do things well because we observe it doing them well. For that argument, the relevant question is what actual public school teachers are now like.

            The other is that there is a good reason to expect government to do things well. I have a theory of the political market — public choice theory. I have been trying to get you to explain your theory of what determines how governments act and why, so far without success. Talking about “some ideal world” simply evades that problem, since that isn’t the world we are in.

            Furthermore, in the world as it exists, while most home schooled children cannot have access to a wide variety of enthusiastic and competent teachers in the form of their parents — the exception being the case of parents who are enthusiastic polymaths — they can interact with people other than their parents, either over the internet or by interacting with other kids enthusiastic about other things because they have different parents.

            That doesn’t give you a utopia with an unlimited range of enthusiastic teachers — the thing that gives that is the library. The Selfish Gene. Feynman’s Lectures. …
            I wrote:

            Since the standard K-12 model is that you learn things by being told them by your teacher or reading them in the book you have been assigned

            You replied:

            My own K-12 education included labs, art projects, and even PE; I’m not sure about yours. That said, how would you propose to teach literature or math without reading books and doing exercises ?

            What fraction of the time in your K-12 education was outside of the classroom setting?

            You learn literature by reading books, not books you read because someone else selected them and assigned you to read them — a good strategy for persuading kids that reading is work, not fun — but books you read because you enjoy reading them.

            When our home unschooled daughter was applying to colleges without the usual sorts of credentials (other than SAT exams), one of the things she offered was a list of four hundred books she had read. Saint Olaf’s, the one school at which she did not have family connections that accepted her, said that was what blew them away.

            Have you seen figures on the number of books read per year by American adults? The median is four. That says something about the attitude to literature produced by classes on it.

            Arithmetic can be learned from a book or by a parent teaching it. Beyond that, a kid who is interested in math can learn it from books suggested by his parents and read because he wants to read them. A kid who takes algebra or geometry only because he is required to do so is not very likely to retain it a few years later.
            Almost any college level teacher is familiar with the usual pattern — pupils learn what is needed to pass the exam and most of them forget it rapidly thereafter. They go through the textbook with a highlighter, marking the bits and pieces that they have to memorize to regurgitate on the exam.

            I wrote:

            History is interesting and useful, but a kid really interested in Roman history will learn more that is useful for himself than a kid learning American history…

            Your quote omitted the rest of the sentence. It was:

            because he is going to have to pass a test on it at the end of the quarter — and is free to forget it thereafter.

            You asked:

            How would a kid learn enough about Roman/American/Babylonian/Chinese/Russian history to develop an interest ?

            Playing computer games is one way. Reading good historical novels. Getting involved in historical recreation. Talking with other people who have such interests.
            I wrote:

            Algebra is useful to some people, useless to most. Ditto geometry.

            You replied:

            See, statements like these is exactly why homeschooling is a bad idea. On the surface level, algebra and geometry are useful to anyone who wants to get any kind of an engineering-related job — and yes, even jobs such as “car mechanic” are rapidly becoming engineering-related. But on a deeper level, algebra and especially geometry, when taught properly, are instrumental in developing general critical thinking skills that IMO every person should have. Well, I suppose this is another assumption on my part; I’m not sure where you place the importance of critical thinking on your list of priorities…

            Those skills can be learned in any of a wide variety of different ways — and most people don’t learn them in the present system. One good way of learning critical thinking skills is to have a question you want answered or be looking for arguments for your political or religious position, go out on the internet and try to figure out which sources of information to believe. With luck, in the argument case, there is someone on the other side to point out problems with what you found.
            I wrote:

            lots of things that are rarely taught and almost never well are also useful to some people — statistics, probability theory, economics, evolutionary biology

            You asked:

            How are you going to teach probability and statistics without algebra?

            You can teach a good deal of both without algebra. Our two kids were about eight and eleven when they read and enjoyed How to Lie With Statistics. Our son (the younger of the two) was an enthusiastic player of D&D and the like and wanted to know how to figure out the odds of getting different results by rolling dice. The author and illustrator of How to Lie With Statistics had also written and illustrated How to Take a Chance, a popular book on probability theory, so he read that, and could calculate the probability of getting seven, or twelve, by rolling two D6’s. No algebra needed, just arithmetic.

            Beyond that, if a kid finds those things interesting and wants to learn more that will give him a reason to learn algebra — even calculus.

            I’m not arguing that nobody should learn algebra, I’m arguing that it isn’t something everyone should be required to learn.
            I wrote:

            but none of what you wrote even starts to explain why you expect government to make good choices … A government has less incentive to act well than a private monopoly, because a private monopoly can only get money from people if they choose to buy what it produces and can only get labor from people if they choose to work for it.

            You replied:

            Being a monopoly means denying people a choice; that’s kind of the whole point.

            That is not the case. Being a monopoly means that other people can only buy the particular good you have a monopoly of from you. They can still choose not to buy that good, and they can certainly choose not to be employed by that monopoly.

            And the monopoly isn’t denying people a choice, unless it is a government enforced monopoly, like the airline industry under regulation, that can make competition illegal. The monopoly is the one firm producing a particular good, which increases the number of options for that good from zero to one.

            Governments, on the other hand, really can and routinely do deny people a choice.

            You wrote:

            Note that public schools are actually better in this regard. If you live in an EduCo town, you can send your children to an EduCo school, or homeschool them, those are your only choices. If you live in a US government town with an EduCo monopoly, you can send your children to public school, or EduCo, or homeschool.

            One of those three alternatives has a subsidy, paid for by your taxes, of about twelve thousand dollars per student per year — more or less depending where you are. Does that really look like a more competitive situation than what would exist if there were no public school system and instead half a dozen private schools competing with each other? Or a voucher system, where the public school competed on even terms?

            In order to attract students away from the public school at present, the private school has to be enough better to outweigh that subsidy.
            You wrote:

            In any case, your view of government seems to be entirely focused on national-level Presidential elections.

            If I was entirely focused on national-level presidential elections why did I write, in the post you are responding to:

            But rational ignorance applies at the state level as well as the federal level.

            I asked:

            Do you believe that knowing how to read and do arithmetic does not benefit the person who acquires those skills?

            You replied:

            I believe that teaching everyone (or rather, as many people as possible) how to read and do arithmetic benefits everyone, but it is very difficult to monetize. That’s what public goods are: items that benefit everyone if most people have them, yet do not benefit any individual party sufficiently to allow for competition. In a corporate system, having a population of people who are empowered to study and work at any corporation of their choosing is pointless; what’s useful is having a pool of workers who would be ideal employees for your own corporation.

            Again, do you believe that knowing how to read and do arithmetic does not benefit the person who acquires those skills? It isn’t corporations who pay for it in a private system, it’s parents. If you agree that those skills are valuable to the individual who has them, then you have conceded that basic education is not a pure public good.

            My child learning those skills may also benefit other people, but a large part of the benefit goes to me and him, which gives us a reason to pay for them.

            It’s true that if some of the benefit goes to other people, we have less than the optimal incentive, as in the case of any positive externality. But for that to be an argument for your position you have to offer a reason to believe that government provision will come closer to optimal.

            You claim to know about public goods. Informed voting is a public good — or, if you prefer, has an externality far above 99% in any polity of substantial size. For a state with the average population, the voter whose activity in a state election results in improved outcomes for residents of the state is taking an action with an externality of 1-1/6,000,000. At the level of an election in my city, the externality is about 99.9999 %. Why do you expect the political system, where the mechanism controlling it has an externality of far above 99%, to produce something closer to the optimum than a mechanism, private choice of education, where there might be an externality of ten or twenty percent?

            Or is your claim that only a millionth of the benefit from basic education goes to the person who is educated?
            I asked:

            So why would you expect the political actors in charge of the schools to act like benevolent despots

            You answered:

            Because they can very easily get voted out when they do;

            Acting like a benevolent despot is what you want them to do — make the correct decisions in the public interest. Your answer is an argument for why they will not act like non-benevolent despots.

            But that argument requires the rationally ignorant voters to know whether the politicians are making the right decision for the schooling system. In a competitive private system, customers can judge that by comparing price and quality of different schools. In the public system they can’t.

            You write:

            Also, you keep using loaded words like “benevolent despots”; this is understandable, but keep in mind that not everyone shares your baseline belief that government is automatically evil.

            “Benevolent despot” is loaded in the positive direction — it’s someone who has power and uses it for the general good, Plato’s philosopher king. That’s your assumption, that if government can do something good, whether with schooling or basic research, it will, not mine, and I am still waiting for you to justify it.

            You wrote:

            Once again, this is a strawman of my position. I’m saying that a government monopoly is better equipped — by contrast with the free market — at providing services whose benefits are diffuse … .

            And I keep pointing out that the benefit of basic education is not very diffuse. Most of it goes to the person who is educated and his parents, some of it to other people.

            Where benefits really are diffuse, neither the market nor the political system does a very good job. Market provision of public goods generally depends on tie-ins, indirect ways of benefiting by giving one thing away and selling something else whose value is increased by it. The argument made by Kealey, whose book I mentioned, is that firms get benefits by having some employees who are engaged in basic research and so knowledgeable about what is likely to happen that will be relevant to what the firms are doing.

            For a more familiar example, consider open source software. That’s a pure public good, since it isn’t protected by copyright. It is produced on the private market. If you are curious, I could describe the indirect benefits that a firm gets by having an employee part of whose time is spent on an open source project that firm uses, or the benefits a programmer gets by participating in an open source project.

            You wrote:

            and/or whose payoffs are very long-term

            You have that exactly backwards. Firms routinely make investments whose payoffs are very long-term — consider, for a simple example, firms that grow hardwood trees for lumber or, for a more high tech example, the history of Xerox. National politicians, in contrast, are interested in the effect of their policy for conditions at the next election. State politicians routinely solve the problem of how to retain state employees by paying them in part with very generous pension guarantees — i.e. expenditures whose bill will come due when someone else is in office.

            Politicians routinely talk about the long term, because they can claim to be doing good things and nobody can see the future to know they aren’t. But it should be obvious from both theory and observation that they act almost entirely in the short run.

            So far your only answer to my repeated challenge — Why do you expect governments to do the good things that your argument requires them to do — is democratic voting. I point out that for that to work the voters have to know whether the government is doing the right thing, that finding that out is very difficult, and that the individual voter has no incentive to pay the costs of doing so, precisely because of the public good problem. To which you have offered no answer.

            It’s true that market outcomes are not perfect because of problems such as externalities, public goods, adverse selection, and the like. But those problems are the exception on the private market. On the political market they are the norm.

            The fundamental problem is that an individual is taking an action where either most of the benefit or most of the cost goes to someone else. That occasionally occurs on the private market. It is true of very nearly every decision made by any actor — voter, politician, bureaucrat, government employee, judge — on the political market.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            Regarding homeschooling, I think we are talking past each other. It seems like we have three points of disagreement:

            1). Homeschooling is sufficient to educate the average child; schools, be they public or private, are not required. I disagree with this, you seem to agree.
            2). If everyone were to switch to homeschooling right now, in our current society, then the average education level would rise significantly (by comparison with strictly public schools). One again, I disagree.
            3). Private schools are a priori better than public schools — irrelevant given point (1).

            Are these roughly the claims you’re making ? If not, then can you re-state your claims ?

            Regarding homeschooling specifically, your opinion seems to be that,

            4). Children should only learn what they want to learn, read the books they want to read,
            5). Children can seek out a wide variety of subjects by browsing the Web or playing video games or talking to other kids, etc., and
            6). The resulting education would be superior to public schools (and possibly private ones).

            I disagree with all three points, obviously (especially since point (5) contradicts point (4)). Learning things that one does not wish to learn is an important life skill. Furthermore, in order to pick up a book the child would need to know that such a book exists. You seem to have some special hatred reserved for assigned reading lists, but the whole point of such lists is to expose the child to a wide array of books that make up our shared cultural heritage. I personally hated most of the books on my list, but nonetheless I’m very grateful to my teachers for making me read them — because I’d discovered a few gems I never knew I’d enjoy. During that time, I’ve also learned how to slay Pinkie demons with a chainsaw, but that wasn’t terribly educational.

            Moving on to a few specific comments:

            There are two possible arguments you can make, for this issue or others. One is that we know government can be expected to do things well because we observe it doing them well.

            Generally speaking, this is true. I enjoy driving on roads, going to the library (well, not so much anymore, but I used to before the Internet days), and the few times I had to call the cops or the ambulance I was moderately satisfied with the results (I’ve never had to call the fire department, thankfully). My own public school experience was fairly decent. Obviously, all of these services could be greatly improved, but still, the government is performing them reasonably well. I’ve also had cable Internet service from Comcast and Time Warner, which are private monopolies. Don’t get me started on them.

            For that argument, the relevant question is what actual public school teachers are now like.

            Some are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and possess whatever spark of personality is required to engage children in learning. Some are just going through the motions to get their paycheck. Most are average, by definition. I completely agree that this situation could be improved.

            The other is that there is a good reason to expect government to do things well.

            I expect the government to do things better than the free market — which does not mean “optimally” ! — in certain cases where the lack of immediate financial gain precludes financial expenditures. As I asked before — would you authorize $1B payment to build a LIGO ?

            what determines how governments act and why, so far without success.

            As I said before, the government is not some alien entity; it’s just a bunch of managers who are paid by a fixed community subscription fee (i.e. taxes). Eliminating financial gain from their motivation allows them to focus on things that are financial black holes, such as general education, scientific research, or national defence (or libraries, back in the old days before the government-financed ARPA developed the Internet). Their motivation to do well depends on the type of government. In a democracy, it’s the knowledge that they will be voted out of office should they perform especially poorly. In a representative two-party system such as ours, this motivation is admittedly quite weak on the national level.

            the thing that gives that is the library. The Selfish Gene. Feynman’s Lectures. …

            The library is a government-run project. The Internet is semi-private today, but would not exist without the government. Arguably, neither would the transistor.

            What fraction of the time in your K-12 education was outside of the classroom setting?

            It’s hard to say (I’m actually pretty old, you know); but perhaps 20%. All of that was spent solely on subjects I was personally interested in. As I said before, I am extremely happy with the fact that I’ve learned other things as well, in a mandatory setting. To name a few examples, “shop”, biology, geometry, and even literature were very useful to me later in my education (and in life), even though I disliked most of them in school.

            Have you seen figures on the number of books read per year by American adults? The median is four.

            Oh, I agree that this is terrible. Most other countries — ones with even more widespread public schooling systems, such as Germany or the Netherlands — read way more, on the order of 10 to 20. I absolutely agree that the American metrics are bad, but you can’t pin them on the mere existence of public schools.

            A kid who takes algebra or geometry only because he is required to do so is not very likely to retain it a few years later.

            Well, I was required to do so, and I retained it, but I admit that it’s just one data point.

            They go through the textbook with a highlighter, marking the bits and pieces that they have to memorize to regurgitate on the exam.

            I completely agree that exams should be better. The SAT in particular, while far from optimal, is still pretty good. Studying for the SAT will increase your score, but not from 0 to maximum.

            One good way of learning critical thinking skills is to … go out on the internet and try to figure out which sources of information to believe.

            Have you seen Twitter lately ? You go on the Internet to read ragebait. If you want to get some useful information, then you need to know beforehand how to construct a proof by deduction or induction; some basic statistics; and the common logical pitfalls. None of these things can be learned just by chatting online. Geometry, when taught properly, is actually better at developing those skills than a philosophy course, because it is completely abstract. Triangles don’t care how you feel about gay people or whatever, and the skills you develop to prove (not just memorize !) that e.g. the sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees, will serve you better in life than learning which celebrity has the coolest scarf or whatever.

            You can teach a good deal of both without algebra. Our two kids were about eight and eleven when they read and enjoyed How to Lie With Statistics…

            Wow. No, you can’t. You really, really can’t. You can maybe learn a few tips and tricks, and you can learn a caricature of some common concepts, expressed in common English-language metaphors. But you can’t calculate anything. For example, how big of a sample size would you need to be 95% confident in your mean ? You cannot answer that question without at least some basic algebra; but that’s not even the most interesting question. Why would you need a sample of that size ? That’s the interesting question, and without algebra, it will forever remain a mystery to you.

            I’m not arguing that nobody should learn algebra, I’m arguing that it isn’t something everyone should be required to learn.

            I argue that basic algebra is simple enough that everyone should be required to at least attempt to learn it. Algebra is one of these basic skills that unlocks an entire galaxy of possibilities, yet seems useless on its own, so most people — like yourself, apparently ! — would never even look at it twice. That is the point of education: not just to teach you to be a productive worker in some industry, but to allow you entry to any field of your choosing.

            Being a monopoly means that other people can only buy the particular good you have a monopoly of from you. They can still choose not to buy that good, and they can certainly choose not to be employed by that monopoly. And the monopoly isn’t denying people a choice, unless it is a government enforced monopoly, like the airline industry under regulation, that can make competition illegal.

            The whole point of a private monopoly is that it makes competition impossible. Right now, I live in a Time Warner service area. I could choose to buy my Internet service from them, or I could choose not to have any Internet service at all. Things used to be a lot better a few decades ago, when the government executed a concerted push to break up telecom monopolies. If you rewind history a bit, and look at “company towns” back in the 1850s (IIRC), you can see the glorious paradise that monopolies had built (spoiler alert, it sucked).

            Governments, on the other hand, really can and routinely do deny people a choice.

            I suppose they could, but how is that the case with education ? Right now, you can send your children to private or public schools, can you not ? Well, many people can’t, because they can’t afford the cost of private school, but I assume that you can…

            Does that really look like a more competitive situation than what would exist if there were no public school system and instead half a dozen private schools competing with each other?

            That depends, is there a government to prevent those dozen schools from agglomerating into EduCo; to ensure that they actually teach their students a basic curriculum, instead of just handing out diplomas or focusing on e.g. Jesus; and to provide some alternative for people who cannot afford the cost ? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s pretty close to the situation we have now (ditto for vouchers).

            Again, do you believe that knowing how to read and do arithmetic does not benefit the person who acquires those skills?

            Once again, you seem to have missed the point of my argument entirely. Literacy helps everyone, including but by no means limited to the literate individual. Being a general literacy service provider does not benefit anyone sufficiently to engage in this enterprise (by contrast with specific job training, ideological indoctrination, etc.).

            Why do you expect the political system, where the mechanism controlling it has an externality of far above 99%

            As I said before, local elections — on the county/city/district level — are very important. State/national elections, less so. However, note that if a state/national politician proposed, say, a 99% tax on bread as the main plank of his platform, he’d very likely still lose to a competitor who had more rational policies.

            Acting like a benevolent despot is what you want them to do — make the correct decisions in the public interest.

            Er… yes ? And how do they know what’s in the public interest ? Is there a feedback mechanism that tells them when their policies are appreciated by the public ? In case of actual despots, not so much, but I never claimed to be a monarchist.

            That’s your assumption, that if government can do something good, whether with schooling or basic research, it will

            Could you please stop telling me what my assumptions are — at least, until you can provide some evidence of psychic ability ? My actual assumption is, once again, that there exist a class of services that laissez-faire capitalism is ill-equipped to provide; and that, so far, the government is the only alternative system that can adequately provide such services on a large scale. That is very different from saying “the government is an monibenevolent cornucopia”, and I am puzzled that you seemingly can’t see the difference.

            If you are curious, I could describe the indirect benefits that a firm gets by having an employee part of whose time is spent on an open source project that firm uses

            Please do — and then, please explain why the overwhelming majority of firms make no provisions for allowing employees to participate in open-source projects on company time (obviously, encouraging them to do so on their own time, at no cost to the firm, makes perfect sense).

            You have that exactly backwards. Firms routinely make investments whose payoffs are very long-term — consider, for a simple example, firms that grow hardwood trees for lumber

            That’s not a long-term investment, that’s an ongoing operational expense.

            or, for a more high tech example, the history of Xerox.

            Do you mean, their government sponsored research operations, or something else ? Please elaborate.

            Politicians routinely talk about the long term, because they can claim to be doing good things and nobody can see the future to know they aren’t.

            The Manhattan Project. Moon landing. ARPAnet. The Interstate Highway System. Hoover Dam. Standing armies. Public libraries. Clean tap water. And yes, public schools. Somehow, those shiftless politicians managed to create and maintain all of these things, despite only looking toward their next election — whereas private companies failed. Why do you think that is ?

          • You write:

            Regarding homeschooling, I think we are talking past each other. It seems like we have three points of disagreement:
            1). Homeschooling is sufficient to educate the average child; schools, be they public or private, are not required. I disagree with this, you seem to agree.
            2). If everyone were to switch to homeschooling right now, in our current society, then the average education level would rise significantly (by comparison with strictly public schools). One again, I disagree.
            3). Private schools are a priori better than public schools — irrelevant given point (1).
            Are these roughly the claims you’re making ?

            I have made none of those claims. This started, more or less, with your writing:

            I think that some form of mandatory, government-run (or at least government-certified) schooling is important — because it’s critical for a modern society to have a population that is 100% literate (+- epsilon).

            None of those assumptions is necessary to dispute that claim.

            And, of course, the claim as stated leads to the opposite of your conclusion, since nothing close to 100% of the population, probably well under 50%, is literate by your expanded definition of literacy, and that’s the outcome of a system of compulsory schooling, mostly public.

            Regarding homeschooling specifically, your opinion seems to be that,
            4). Children should only learn what they want to learn, read the books they want to read,

            A slight exaggeration and oversimplification of my position. Adults can help by telling kids about interesting things, suggesting books, interacting in a variety of ways. But I think it’s rarely desirable to compel kids to read a book or study a subject.

            5). Children can seek out a wide variety of subjects by browsing the Web or playing video games or talking to other kids, etc., and

            Or reading books.

            6). The resulting education would be superior to public schools (and possibly private ones).

            Done well, for many kids, but not all, it would.

            Learning things that one does not wish to learn is an important life skill.

            Best learned when you have a reason to do so better than someone else’s orders.

            There are lots of contexts where you have to do something you don’t want to do in order to achieve something you want to achieve — saving money in order to buy a toy, spending several hours in preparation for the D&D game you are DM for because you like being a DM.

            Furthermore, in order to pick up a book the child would need to know that such a book exists.

            And part of the role of parents, or other adults, is to tell kids about books, get them interested, point them in the right direction. There is a difference between helping people and giving them orders.

            You seem to have some special hatred reserved for assigned reading lists, but the whole point of such lists is to expose the child to a wide array of books that make up our shared cultural heritage.

            More precisely, to whatever books are currently in fashion for the purpose.

            The important lessons are that books are fun and interesting, plus learning the skill of reading. Making kids read books because the teacher thinks reading those books is good for them is a much worse way of accomplishing both of those objectives than encouraging kids to find and read books they enjoy.

            Moving on to a few specific comments:
            [quoting me]There are two possible arguments you can make, for this issue or others. One is that we know government can be expected to do things well because we observe it doing them well.

            Your response:

            Generally speaking, this is true. I enjoy driving on roads, going to the library (well, not so much anymore, but I used to before the Internet days), and the few times I had to call the cops or the ambulance I was moderately satisfied with the results (I’ve never had to call the fire department, thankfully). My own public school experience was fairly decent. Obviously, all of these services could be greatly improved, but still, the government is performing them reasonably well. I’ve also had cable Internet service from Comcast and Time Warner, which are private monopolies. Don’t get me started on them.

            I was responding to a specific argument you made. You appear to be ignoring that. If you don’t remember, you can reread my post — that’s the advantage of arguing in writing instead of in speech.

            On your public school experience, you have no basis for comparison to tell you whether or not it was better than alternatives. I have my education at school vs my education in other contexts and my observation of the education of my home unschooled children.

            I went to a very good private school and was bored most of the time. My wife went to a good suburban public school and was bored most of the time. I was not bored reading books, arguing with my father about lots of things, arguing moral philosophy with a friend, interacting in a variety of ways that I was choosing.

            My children learned lots of things, some of which required quite a lot of work — I think my daughter worked harder learning Italian, which she had chosen to do, than I ever worked in any class in K-12, college or grad school.

            I wrote, and you quoted:

            For that argument, the relevant question is what actual public school teachers are now like.

            You responded:

            Some are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and possess whatever spark of personality is required to engage children in learning. Some are just going through the motions to get their paycheck. Most are average, by definition.

            Yes. But the argument you were offering for the superiority of school to home schooling required that all, or at least a large fraction, were enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

            I completely agree that this situation could be improved.

            Do you mean “one can imagine an improved situation,” which is surely true, or “the public schools could improve this situation,” in which case the obvious question is why they haven’t. That’s getting us back to the point I keep trying to make and you, I think, keep missing. The behavior of a government, or a firm, isn’t something we can simply assume — we have to figure out how it will behave, either by observing how it does behave or by having a convincing theory to predict its behavior.

            You would consider it unreasonable if my defense of home schooling started by assuming that all parents were enthusiastic polymaths. It wouldn’t be a defense if I said that they could be. No more is it a defense of public schools to say they could have many more enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers.

            Again quoting me:

            The other is that there is a good reason to expect government to do things well.

            And replying:

            I expect the government to do things better than the free market — which does not mean “optimally” ! — in certain cases where the lack of immediate financial gain precludes financial expenditures. As I asked before — would you authorize $1B payment to build a LIGO ?

            As I keep pointing out, that doesn’t describe basic schooling, since most of the benefit goes to the person who is schooled, so doesn’t support your position on schooling.

            I will happily agree that the private market often does a poor job of producing pure public goods — how poor depending on whether there are good indirect ways of funding them. I don’t agree that the government does a good job of producing such goods because, as I keep pointing out, the mechanism you rely on to make the government do the right things, voting, requires individual voters to produce a pure public good, and an expensive one, which they don’t do.

            Continuing to quote what I wrote:

            what determines how governments act and why, so far without success.

            You responded:

            As I said before, the government is not some alien entity; it’s just a bunch of managers who are paid by a fixed community subscription fee (i.e. taxes). Eliminating financial gain from their motivation allows them to focus on things that are financial black holes, such as general education, scientific research, or national defence (or libraries, back in the old days before the government-financed ARPA developed the Internet). Their motivation to do well depends on the type of government. In a democracy, it’s the knowledge that they will be voted out of office should they perform especially poorly. In a representative two-party system such as ours, this motivation is admittedly quite weak on the national level.

            Knowing whether a government actor is doing a good job isn’t easy — nobody runs for office on the slogan “I’m the bad guy.” Nobody introduces a bill into Congress entitled “A bill to make farmers richer and city folk poorer,” although such a bill is introduced and passed every year. Even at the state level, even at the local level, the government is doing lots of moderately complicated things. Unlike the situation in the private market, the individual can’t directly compare the performance of the alternatives. Nobody gets to see whether Obama did a better or worse job than Romney would have done.

            As I keep pointing out and you keep ignoring, the individual voter has essentially no incentive to do the hard work of forming an intelligent judgement of how good a job elected politicians are doing, for precisely the reason you have been arguing that the private market doesn’t do a good job of producing diffuse goods. The benefit from voting wisely is diffused across the whole polity, an externality of way above 99%. And yet that good has to be produced privately. The result is that voters are rationally ignorant. So they make their voting decisions either in terms of what arguments sound most persuasive to someone who knows nothing about the subject and has no reason to make an effort to evaluate the arguments, or in terms of what political position will help them get along with friends and other people who matter, or which politician or party they enjoy identifying with, or similar factors.

            The library is a government-run project.

            Some libraries are. Some are private. A library is producing an ordinary private good for the people who use it so, on your own arguments, there is no reason it can’t be done privately.

            I asked:

            Have you seen figures on the number of books read per year by American adults? The median is four.

            You replied:

            … I absolutely agree that the American metrics are bad, but you can’t pin them on the mere existence of public schools.

            That’s not my point. Your argument was that forcing kids to read literature was the way to get them to appreciate it. Kids are forced to read literature, and the fact that, as adults, they don’t read it is evidence that your claim is false.

            And my point was not about public schools but about the conventional model of schooling, public and private.

            I wrote:

            One good way of learning critical thinking skills is to … go out on the internet and try to figure out which sources of information to believe.

            You replied:

            Have you seen Twitter lately ?

            No. I don’t use Twitter, and it isn’t a sensible way of doing what I discuss. Usenet used to be pretty good. Nowadays you use the web. As you might have noticed from current observation, I spend a lot time on this blog.

            I wrote, about statistics and probability theory:

            You can teach a good deal of both without algebra. Our two kids were about eight and eleven when they read and enjoyed How to Lie With Statistics

            You replied:

            Wow. No, you can’t. You really, really can’t. You can maybe learn a few tips and tricks, and you can learn a caricature of some common concepts, expressed in common English-language metaphors. But you can’t calculate anything. For example, how big of a sample size would you need to be 95% confident in your mean ?

            Almost nobody actually answers that question by calculating if for himself, and if he did, algebra wouldn’t suffice for the purpose. People do it by looking up the answer on an appropriate table, which requires neither algebra nor calculus.

            One of the things you can learn with neither algebra nor calculus is what a significance measure means — something that, in my observation, the great majority of those who do statistics that produce such results don’t know. Most of them think that having confirmed your hypothesis at the .05 level means the chance your hypothesis is false is no more than .05 — which, unfortunately, is not the case, indeed cannot be deduced by classical statistics.
            You wrote:

            As best I can tell You cannot answer that question without at least some basic algebra; but that’s not even the most interesting question. Why would you need a sample of that size ? That’s the interesting question, and without algebra, it will forever remain a mystery to you.

            The hard question is what it means to be 95% confident in your mean, or any result from statistical analysis of data, and most people who have taken a stat course in college don’t know that. The hard and important issues are conceptual ones. I can demonstrate what is wrong with the usual misunderstanding of significance measures using no math beyond arithmetic — and in the process explain the difference between classical and Bayesian statistics. I’ve explained the point several times on my blog — here is one of them.
            I’m not arguing that nobody should learn algebra, I’m arguing that it isn’t something everyone should be required to learn.
            You wrote:

            I argue that basic algebra is simple enough that everyone should be required to at least attempt to learn it. Algebra is one of these basic skills that unlocks an entire galaxy of possibilities, yet seems useless on its own, so most people — like yourself, apparently ! — would never even look at it twice.

            Would it help if I told you that my father taught me algebra when I was about ten? I took my first college calculus course when I was fifteen and was nineteen the first time I got an A in a graduate student only math class, which I was taking as an undergraduate. My doctorate is in theoretical physics.

            I’m not arguing that nobody should learn algebra, I’m arguing that not everybody should — fortunate since, although practically everyone takes a class in it, many, probably most, can’t actually use it thereafter.

            My wife, as a graduate student at VPI, taught labs for a geology course that was used to satisfy the science requirement by non-science students. A majority of them, given the height, width, and depth of a rectangular ore body, had no idea how to calculate the volume. That’s about as elementary as geometry gets. VPI is the second best state university in Virginia, so the students would probably be from about the top quarter of high school graduates.

            I wrote:

            Governments, on the other hand, really can and routinely do deny people a choice.

            You responded:

            I suppose they could, but how is that the case with education ?
            Right now, you can send your children to private or public schools, can you not ? Well, many people can’t, because they can’t afford the cost of private school, but I assume that you can…

            All U.S. states have compulsory schooling laws, and in some that means that I would not be free to home unschool my children.
            It didn’t occur to you that compulsory schooling laws deny people a choice?

            I wrote:

            Does that really look like a more competitive situation than what would exist if there were no public school system and instead half a dozen private schools competing with each other?

            You replied:

            That depends, is there a government to prevent those dozen schools from agglomerating into EduCo; to ensure that they actually teach their students a basic curriculum, instead of just handing out diplomas or focusing on e.g. Jesus; and to provide some alternative for people who cannot afford the cost ? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s pretty close to the situation we have now (ditto for vouchers).

            Your assumption seems to be that the people running the public schools care more about the welfare of my children than I do. At least, that’s what you need to conclude that if the government didn’t control the private schools, they wouldn’t teach kids.

            Is it your assumption that schooling is a natural monopoly? That’s not consistent with observation of the size of schools — we don’t see very large schools consistently outcompeting smaller ones.

            Over the past century, government intervention in the U.S. has been the main source of monopoly. A private monopoly can keep competitors out, absent government assistance, only by providing a service on better terms than other firms are willing to provide it. A regulated industry — airlines under the CAB before deregulation, rail and trucking under the ICC — can keep them out by making competition illegal.

            Again, do you believe that knowing how to read and do arithmetic does not benefit the person who acquires those skills?

            Once again, you seem to have missed the point of my argument entirely. Literacy helps everyone, including but by no means limited to the literate individual.

            Do you deny that much of the benefit of my being literate goes to me? Your argument is only that some of it goes to others, which might well be the case. But that makes it a good with some positive externality, not a pure public good. Do you understand the difference?

            The fact that one of the benefits from education is diffuse doesn’t mean it can’t be provided privately, given that another benefit is an ordinary private good.

            Being a general literacy service provider does not benefit anyone sufficiently to engage in this enterprise (by contrast with specific job training, ideological indoctrination, etc.).

            That’s pure argument by assertion. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, are you saying that if there was no public school you wouldn’t teach them to read?

            You quoted me:

            Why do you expect the political system, where the mechanism controlling it has an externality of far above 99%

            And replied:

            As I said before, local elections — on the county/city/district level — are very important. State/national elections, less so. However, note that if a state/national politician proposed, say, a 99% tax on bread as the main plank of his platform, he’d very likely still lose to a competitor who had more rational policies.

            Do you understand what an externality of 99% means? I live in a city of about a million. That means that if I do a good job of electing local politicians, I get about one millionth of the benefit. That’s a diffuse benefit — enormously more so than the benefit from my getting my kid basic education. You argue, correctly, that private action can’t be relied on to produce a diffuse benefit. But your whole argument here depends on private action by voters producing a very diffuse good — informed voting.

            You quoted me:

            That’s your assumption, that if government can do something good, whether with schooling or basic research, it will

            and replied:

            Could you please stop telling me what my assumptions are — at least, until you can provide some evidence of psychic ability ?

            You are in a poor position to make that objection, given that in our previous exchange you not only told me what my views were, you twice asserted that I had views which were inconsistent with what I had just written and you, presumably, had just read.

            I am attributing to you the assumption needed for the argument you are making to go through. Your argument is that “Eliminating financial gain from their motivation allows them to focus on things that are financial black holes, such as general education, scientific research, or national defence.” Allowing them to do something is only relevant if they choose to do it.

            You went on to sketch your reason for expecting them to do it — voting. I have pointed out repeatedly why that doesn’t work, and you have simply ignored the argument. I have done it again in this post.

            I had written:

            If you are curious, I could describe the indirect benefits that a firm gets by having an employee part of whose time is spent on an open source project that firm uses

            You replied:

            Please do — and then, please explain why the overwhelming majority of firms make no provisions for allowing employees to participate in open-source projects on company time (obviously, encouraging them to do so on their own time, at no cost to the firm, makes perfect sense).

            A firm is using an open source program. It may have problems with it, encounter bugs, want modifications. An employee of that firm who is part of the project might be able to do those things, although probably not if it is a reasonably large project. But the person who can find and fix the bug or make the modification is someone else on the project, and people on an open source project talk to each other and do favors for each other.

            For a more complete explanation of the economics of open source, I recommend The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond.

            I wrote, about your claim that we need government for long term planning:

            You have that exactly backwards. Firms routinely make investments whose payoffs are very long-term — consider, for a simple example, firms that grow hardwood trees for lumber

            You replied:

            That’s not a long-term investment, that’s an ongoing operational expense.

            If you spend money now for a return twenty years from now that is an investment.

            I had added:

            or, for a more high tech example, the history of Xerox.

            You replied:

            Do you mean, their government sponsored research operations, or something else ? Please elaborate.

            Haloid corporation started on xerography in 1947. Its first marketable plain-paper copier, the Xerox 914 (by that time Haloid had become Haloid Xerox), came out in 1959.

            This has gotten too long — I, unfortunately, can resist anything but temptation — and for too much of it I feel as though I’m talking to the wall, so I don’t plan another round. You are, of course, free to respond if you wish.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            Since you’re not interested in continuing the debate, I don’t think it makes sense for me to respond to your points. That said, since I too cannot resist temptation, let me add one novel point.

            Based on your latest comment, and your comments in general, I think I can safely conclude that you are very smart. Much smarter than me, in fact. I am not being sarcastic or ironic, I genuinely mean that. Being smart is a good thing, but I think in this specific case — a debate on education — it clouds your judgement.

            You are the kind of person to whom learning comes very easily. Since early childhood, you could pick up virtually any book and absorb it without any assistance; you could go out and study any subject (as long as it wasn’t too boring for you), and achieve mastery of it in short order. For people like you, any kind of structured schooling would be torture, because you’d be forced to crawl along with the average people, waiting for them to catch up.

            I think it is difficult for you to appreciate that average people, such as e.g. myself, are not nearly as efficient at learning on our own. We need lectures, we need exercises, and it takes us many hours and multiple attempts to internalize some concept. The type of learning that seemed so boring and pointless to you, was exciting and stimulating for me — because, despite what you might think, I do genuinely enjoy understanding new things and expanding my horizons.

            Would the world be better off if everyone was as smart as you ? Undoubtedly. Would the world be better off if people like yourself were empowered to study at their own pace ? Absolutely. But, would the world be better off if every student was left to his own devices ? No. Not everyone in the world is the same. Most people are average, in fact. Sad, but true.

          • Fair points. One of the reasons I’m not claiming that unschooling, which is really what that part of the argument was about, is best for everyone is that most of my first hand data is for a very atypical sample, my own family. So I don’t know how well the conclusions would apply beyond that.

            But you might want to look at the literature on the Sudbury Valley School, which is a school run on unschooling lines. Its defenders at least claim that it works for a wide variety of students.

            On the general subject of unschooling, you might find my past blog posts of interest.

            Also, while looking over my own posts, I came across a link to a news story on illiteracy in America. It’s relevant to your statement early in the thread that it is critical for a modern society to have a population “100% literate (+- epsilon),” literate in a sense much stronger than the news story is using, and that government schooling was the way to achieve that objective.

      • albatross11 says:

        Bugmaster:

        I think almost everyone has an idea of things that government should or should not be involved in, and if you propose ways to have the government do something better I think it shouldn’t be doing at all, I’m not going to be impressed by the gains in efficiency. For example, in the US, we’ve broadly accepted the idea that the government should not be in the business of owning, operating, or (outside some edge cases) regulating churches. If you propose a better way for the state to ensure that the right theology is taught in the nation’s churches, I’m not going to be too excited even if you are right that your way would be extra-efficient. Similarly, if you come up with a much more efficient way for the government to decide what everyone should read, or ensure that the next generation is genetically improved over this generation, I’m not interested in the efficiency gains, because I think it’s not a good thing to have the government doing in the first place.

        I don’t think any of the three examples I gave above are particular to libertarians.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Some of the libertarians I’ve talked to have a more fundamental disagreement than that. They don’t merely argue that the government should stay out of matters X, Y, or Z; instead, they believe that the very concept of a centralized government is oppressive, immoral, or otherwise invalid. So, while they would technically agree with “government should stay out of X”, they would only do so because X is a member of the set of things that governments should stay out of, which includes literally everything, because governments should not exist.

          • That’s a description of anarcho-capitalists. As best I can tell, they have always been a minority among libertarians. The more common position is something close to classical liberalism — police, courts and national defense are legitimate government functions, anything else probably isn’t.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The more common position is something close to classical liberalism — police, courts and national defense are legitimate government functions, anything else probably isn’t.

            Is this grounded in Natural Law? Because surely by definition the legitimate government functions, sensu positive law, are whatever Government X happens to have on the books without triggering its own overthrow.

          • Is this grounded in Natural Law?

            Libertarianism is a set of conclusions, more accurately a range of conclusions, that could be reached for any of a variety of different reasons. A utilitarian could be a libertarian because he had concluded that restricting government to those functions maximized utility. A natural rights libertarian could offer arguments for why those activities didn’t violate natural rights, anything more did.

          • ec429 says:

            As one of the hardline libertarians you seem to be referring to: yes, I do indeed believe that government (defined in a particular and specific way) is intrinsically immoral. To be precise, it’s about the source of the government’s legitimacy and authority; there are three main possibilities.
            1) Government authority derives from its ability to deploy overwhelming force. No-one defends this on a small scale, but some people somehow seem to think it’s acceptable when a nation-state does it.
            2) Government authority derives from a ‘social contract’ (that may be unwritten, but at least the US managed to write it down and — for the first 150 years or so — took seriously the idea that it needed to follow it in order to remain a legitimate government), consent to which is presumed against ‘natural-born’ citizens and is (with unclear justification) made a requirement for inhabiting a specified territory. For any citizen who decides they don’t in fact consent to the social contract as implemented, their choices are emigrate (the procedures for which in many cases require them to be signing up to another recognised nation’s ‘contract’, as for instance in nations signatory to the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness per Article 7 thereof) or see (1).
            3) Government authority derives from an explicit contract made with (and consented to without duress by) each citizen separately and individually. Territorial sovereignty may be involved, as essentially a way of reducing enforcement costs of the contract, but only if obtained by homesteading or by contracting with the homesteader of the territory to either buy or manage his sovereign rights. (It also really helps if there’s an open frontier; large aggregated territorial claims get a lot less morally defensible when they’re exhaustive and create an oligopoly.)

            Now, you’ll notice that (3) is not something that actually exists in the world today. (I’ve actually based most of the description on Alistair Young’s Eldraeverse sci-fi, which among other things does a good job of illuminating the difference between this and the kind of ‘dogmatic Rothbardianism’ it’s often mistaken for.) To someone like me, however, it’s the only kind of ‘government’ that could ever be morally justified, because all ethics is grounded in consent.

            Pace David’s “curious coincidence” upthread, I do indeed happen to also believe that oath-consent states would be better governed than the other kind; but then what is morality if not the matter of what rules of behaviour lead to good outcomes? (Comparison with the Posner thesis — that the anglo-saxon common law, economic efficiency, and intuitive notions of justice align — is instructive.)

          • 10240 says:

            @ec429 A few more possible views:
            4) The government is legitimate because society, on the whole, is better of if it exists than if it doesn’t.
            5) Government is legitimate because it is (approximately) elected by a majority, or because the system of governance itself is supported by a majority, or at least the majority prefers it to having no government at all.
            6) The concept of legitimacy is meaningless. There are no natural rights, only interests. Most people support the existence of a government because they believe they are better off if it exists than if it doesn’t.

          • albatross11 says:

            10240:

            I think (4) more-or-less captures my view. I think it is very hard to morally justify a lot of what government does, because government is just people. That is, I don’t think government has any special moral status that a private club or informal group of friends of business don’t have. And yet, I think we don’t know a good way to have a decent society under modern conditions without it. (Though I very much appreciate the efforts of folks like David in trying to figure out other ways.)

            I see this a little like MAD for deterring nuclear attacks. There is absolutely no way to morally justify launching a retaliatory nuclear strike on Russia after they launch one on us. Nearly everyone we’d kill would have been innocent of the actual mass murder we were avenging. And yet, it seems like committing to doing just this is more-or-less the only way we can work out to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in war. If we resolved to behave morally in this realm, we’d incentivize an enemy to nuke us as soon as it seemed useful for them, and knowing they could would empower them to push us around to their hearts’ content.

          • ec429 says:

            @10240
            (4) rests on the assumption that utilities can be aggregated interpersonally, which I reject — if you give Alice an apple but take away Bob’s banana, have you increased or decreased total happiness? To me the question is meaningless, unanswerable; which is why I follow the Marshall approach (maximise revealed-preferential dollar value); the process that reveals those preferences also monetarily compensates them, and would in the spherical-cow-in-a-vacuum version turn every Marshall improvement into a Pareto improvement (for which, of course, interpersonal utility comparisons aren’t needed to conclude that “yes, it’s good”). In practice of course the compensation doesn’t always happen (*waves at Ron Coase*) but the Marshall criterion at least gives us an actionable way to resolve the question.
            Government, having access to (1), doesn’t need to compensate those whom its existence makes worse off, so it generally doesn’t, meaning that only much more indirect mechanisms are available to pressure it to limit the extent to which it makes people worse off.

            (5) assumes that ‘the majority’ has some intrinsic right to impose its will on the minority. Which is incoherent without some account of why it’s this particular set of people from which the majority should be drawn; and I’ve never seen a justification for it that didn’t either fall back on (1) or require interpersonal utility comparisons like (4) (usually, both).

            (6) is simply false-to-fact. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma with communication, both participants have interests. But if they ignore the natural law that says “if you fail to find a way to co-ordinate, you’ll both defect and be worse off as a result”, they fail to serve their interests as well as they otherwise could. Natural law, game theory and timeless decision theory are all views or aspects of the same underlying thing, which is “how can optimising agents best optimise in an environment containing other optimising agents”. Things like Rule Utilitarianism or the Rawlsian veil of ignorance are just strategic moves in the metagame; and so is the idea of legitimacy, because it is in your interests both to cooperate with legitimate order and to resist illegitimate order (even where doing so is costly ex post). This is what I was trying to gesture at earlier with my “what is morality” line.

          • ec429 says:

            Nearly everyone we’d kill would have been innocent of the actual mass murder we were avenging. And yet, it seems like committing to doing just this is more-or-less the only way we can work out to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in war.

            From my perspective, that means that retaliating is the moral thing to do: the morality of an act depends not just on its consequences in this reality, but on its effects in counterfactuals. Possibly we’re using the word “morality” differently? (What’s your opinion on this triple of definitions?)

          • 10240 says:

            (6) is simply false-to-fact. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma with communication, both participants have interests. But if they ignore the natural law that says “if you fail to find a way to co-ordinate, you’ll both defect and be worse off as a result”, they fail to serve their interests as well as they otherwise could. Natural law, game theory and timeless decision theory are all views or aspects of the same underlying thing […] This is what I was trying to gesture at earlier with my “what is morality” line.

            @ec429 “In a prisoner dilemma both participants are better off if they both cooperate than if they both defect” is a simple true fact. “Therefore they have a moral obligation to cooperate” feels like a stronger claim, one that is a matter of worldview, and it’s unclear if it’s meaningful at all. (6) espouses the worldview that morality is meaningless.

          • ec429 says:

            (6) espouses the worldview that morality is meaningless

            What is the operational difference between “morality is meaningless, there are only competing interests” and the “morality is a set of game-theoretic strategies” worldview I described above (in which ‘natural law’ is the science of which metagame strategies work)? The only difference I can see is that (6) thinks ‘morality’ has to be some kind of epiphenomenal aura of goodness, rightly observes that auras don’t exist, and concludes that nor does morality. Which is purely a dispute about the definition of the word ‘morality’, rather than anything in the territory.
            But I doubt my characterisation of (6) would pass the ideological Turing test, so maybe you can explain what I’m missing.

          • 10240 says:

            @ec429 Yes, you can define morality or legitimacy as certain game theoretic strategies, but I think most people feel like they are making a claim with a truth value when they say (for instance) that there is a moral obligation to follow the game theoretic strategies that would produce (in some sense) the best result if everyone followed them, rather than simply defining the word ‘morality’. That feeling, according to (6), an illusion. I think the way you put it is actually pretty similar to what I meant.

            (My actual views are similar to (6) but slightly weaker: I recognize morality as a set of personal preferences, but not as an objective feature of the world.)

    • JPNunez says:

      I think the basic problem with America is that there are two levels of government, state and federal. This creates way too much bureaucracy and nested laws and conflicts that simply don’t exist on simpler societies.

      Which isn’t to say that simpler countries have better governments, or that certain parties have not ruined given parts of either governments. But maybe America hit some complexity level where the federal system works against itself.

      Thinking on it again, dunno why there’s a cutoff date of the 80s and assume this is some bias of the observer or hearing from the good old days. Could be wrong.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        Does such a conflict not happen with national vs. city/town/county authority? Or in other countries with provinces?

      • Tandagore says:

        Germany has those layers too, doesn’t it? I am not sure if the US has that much more bureaucracy than them since I am not that familiar with the system, but it seems like other countries with a system of similar complexity at least seem more functional.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            That pyramid gave me a potential answer to my own question; the german states are (presumably, correct me if I’m wrong) strictly inferior to the national government; likewise towns are strictly inferior to states. But in the US, there’s a (dwindling) notion of powers that the states have which the federal government does not.

          • Lambert says:

            It’s a proper federation, not a unitary state. Not as strongly as the US is.

            >the states have exclusive jurisdiction on the police (excluding federal police), most of education, the press, freedom of assembly, public housing, corrections and media affairs,

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

        • JPNunez says:

          Germany, or the modern German state, is relatively young compared to the USA. It hasn’t had time to accumulate cruft. But even then, it would not be surprising that there may be some factors that make the American model worse overall, and that Germany has been able to avoid.

          Germany has the disadvantage of being part of another government, the European Union, but only time will tell if this will have the same effect, particularly as it does not seem to be as close a union as the United States. I mean, they just let a state leave the union without a civil war.

      • sourcreamus says:

        The 80s cutoff is mostly partisanship but there is a difference in the competence of government from around that time.
        I put it down to three main factors.
        Unionization, allowing public unions in the 1960s meant that bad employees were harder to fire and good employees were harder to keep. Because of this the government is chronically understaffed.
        Civil Service Reform in 1978 made the test easier reduced employee quality.
        The rise of suing the government and the death of discretion. Every agency lives in fear of being sued if the letter of the law isnt followed to the letter. This means zero discretion or wisdom is applied and the rules are followed blindly lest some person think they were being discriminated against or treated unfairly. It is better to give crappy service to everyone than good service to everyone except one. This has made government jobs harder and less rewarding.

      • Controls Freak says:

        I think the basic problem with America is that there are two levels of government, state and federal…. maybe America hit some complexity level where the federal system works against itself.

        This is a feature, not a bug. I usually quote Justice Kennedy here:

        The federal system rests on what might at first seem a counterintuitive insight, that “freedom is enhanced by the creation of two governments, not one.” Alden v. Maine , 527 U. S. 706, 758 (1999) . The Framers concluded that allocation of powers between the National Government and the States enhances freedom, first by protecting the integrity of the governments themselves, and second by protecting the people, from whom all governmental powers are derived.

        The way I like to think about it is insurance against the worst outcomes by providing multiple power bases. It’s the same intuition why we’ve split up the federal government into three co-equal branches. When there are multiple power bases, it’s harder for one faction to capture all of them. People can flock toward another power base and use that to push back against one power base that is running amok. To take a current example, some folks think that one or the other levels of government is being terribly unjust in their response to COVID-19, so they’ve flocked to a different power base to push back (creating amusing accusations of hypocrisy to go all around). But I also say that when the states want slavery, I want to go to a federal government who can make them stop. If the federal government teeters toward tyranny, I want to the states to have a way to shut the whole thing down. If a President actually banned Muslims or whatever, I want the Judiciary to push back. Etc. I could probably think of an example for every combination of power bases, but the combinatorics grow factorially.

        Note that this is a reason why I’m also alright with some amount of corporate power. They can push back in unique and interesting ways (e.g., large companies that process search warrants for digital information provide as effective of a pre-execution check on warrant powers as we have anywhere). But I also think that it’s important that we have governments able to push back on corporate power, as well (anti-trust, for example). Sure, none of this is as efficient, but it helps keep the political and economic institutions inclusive, staving off the most colossal failures.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The way I like to think about it is insurance against the worst outcomes by providing multiple power bases. It’s the same intuition why we’ve split up the federal government into three co-equal branches. When there are multiple power bases, it’s harder for one faction to capture all of them.

          The Framers were all Classically educated and got their idea of checks and balances improving the longevity of the State most specifically from Polybius. Following P., a “mixed constitution” was believed to make a state more stable and powerful than pure democracy, oligarchy or monarchy.

    • gdanning says:

      I question your premise. First, many of the metrics that I presume you are looking at re outcomes are functions of state govts in the US, not the federal govt. Second, and relatedly, if you look at those metrics on a state-by-state level, you will find that it is not the US that performs poorly, but rather the South.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I live in the US and lean libertarian, so I’ll give you my answer.

      I think the reason the US governs mostly incompetently is because it is so complex and the government tries to do everything, which results in them doing nothing very well. In fact I wrote a book about it!

      So yes, IMO the issue is that government is run incompetently, and a better run government would most definitely make me less libertarian. It does appear that some countries are run a lot more competently than the US, such as Singapore, Switzerland, and the nordic countries. Part of this may well be that all these countries are much smaller than the US, but I don’t think that is all of it. I don’t know a whole lot about the inner workings of the more competent nations, but I do strongly suspect that they are run in a much simpler manner than the US, even beyond the effect of size. They have a few functions they feel must be performed, and they perform them well. Even a large welfare state can be run a lot more simply than the US, as long as they don’t have 100 agencies in 5 separate jurisdictions all trying to do the same thing.

      Since you are pretty happy with the Dutch government, I am curious if you can give me a feel for how it works. Is the government mostly controlled from the central capital or do you have independent local governments? If someone decided that a group of people were falling through the cracks of the welfare system, would there be one agency they could work with to fix the problem, or would there be a multiplicity of agencies you have to look at? In the US, nobody really knows how much is being paid in welfare and to whom, because it is paid out in so many different ways.

  14. eric23 says:

    In Chicago, population density is anticorrelated with COVID19 prevalence. But number of people per household is correlated with COVID prevalence. Source A similar pattern is observed in NYC.

    This suggests that to prevent similar epidemics in the future, US cities should decrease zoning restrictions so that it is affordable for people to get apartments of their own (rather than living with roommates or family), even though this leads to higher population density overall.

    • Alkatyn says:

      Would be interesting to see if the pattern holds up internationally. A quick Google gives me avarage household size of 2.58 for Italy, 3.33 for Iran, China 3.1, USA 2.5, UK 2.5, South Korea 2.9 and New Zealand 2.7. Which doesn’t have any obvious correlation with the relative severity of their outbreaks

      • eric23 says:

        On an international or even national scale it doesn’t hold up. NYC is the densest major US city and has the highest level of cases. But that is in large part because it is an international travel destination, unlike low-density parts of the US. (Also it had irresponsible policy for far longer than other early-infected places like Seattle and San Jose.) So those factors overwhelm the effect of household size.

        • albatross11 says:

          Also, it sure seems like there’s just a lot of noise in which places got big outbreaks and which places didn’t. NYC got clobbered, and Washington State barely got its hair mussed so far, yet there was probably community spread in Washington State as early as there was in NYC. That looks like it might be density of the urban area, but then there’s also apparently a nasty outbreak in some American Indian communities that are extremely sparsely populated.

          Is this explained mainly by different strains with very different characteristics? Susceptibility profile among the people there (maybe American Indians and New Yorkers are extra-vulnerable for some genetic or behavioral reason)? Randomness in some initial superspreader events happening in one place and not another?

        • gbdub says:

          I think if you are looking at statistics on a national scale, you’re doing it wrong (especially if you are comparing “all of the US / China to one country in Europe). There is a ton of local and regional variation in this thing

          • Matt M says:

            +1

            I don’t know much about China, but treating “the US” as some sort of monolithic entity is almost nonsensical in this case.

    • albatross11 says:

      This seems intuitively like it has a lot of confounds that are going to make it hard to learn much from it. Race and age are correlated with where and how you live, and correlate with having bad enough symptoms of COVID-19 that you actually get tested. Occupation and social class are correlated where and how you live, and also with how likely you are to have been exposed (but may not be so strongly correlated in May of 2021).

  15. matkoniecz says:

    Note that https://slatestarcodex.com/comments/ has broken syntax around “face for one month” text.

    • Dan L says:

      Piggybacking to highlight strictly technical issue – several of the referenced ban reasons seem to point to comments caught in the report filter. Example. In a few such cases I’ve been tracking Scott seems to have manually re-enabled the comment eventually, but it’s a systemic issue that impacts comment policy clarity.

      Oddly, there do seem to be indications of some amount of user-end ability to pull filtered comments. This either means the filter is implemented in a very odd way, or the entire issue is an artifact of one experiment or another I’m running and forgot about. So, uh, can someone confirm please that the above direct-comment link is broken for them too?

      ETA: Nevermind, figured out the source of confusion. Would still appreciate confirmation though, since the underlying problem seems to not be an artifact of my setup.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Confirmation of what? That the comments don’t exist any more? Yes, the comments you mention here don’t exist anymore. I think that I checked that they all did exist at one time. In particular, SCC did comment on that thread.

        • Dan L says:

          I’m not sure if I can count that as confirmation, since it seems as though your particulars are very nearly the opposite of mine.

          The post referenced in SCC’s ban was not available at the time the ban hit the Comments page (and I commented on it), but has since been restored. See the fact that Scott did not reply to the bad post to announce the ban, as used to be his habit – unless you checked the Comments page there was no way to even know that SCC was banned, and definitely no way (short of third-party archiving) to know why.

          I seem to recall the reference post for d*ck’s ban being visible at some point, but if correct it was removed quick enough that most archival services didn’t get a snapshot. It serves as a good example of the specific problem…

          …that a combination of moderation policies leads to an ever-increasing opacity, barring continuous effort by Scott. If comments get pulled automatically as a response to user reports, then there is a mechanism by which they can disappear even after they have been referenced in other places. If Scott is increasingly relying on comment references to explain the moderation policy, then it is vulnerable to this dynamic and requires manually approving things for them to stay relevant. It gets worse when you make the connection that especially bad comments are more likely both to be reported and used by Scott as examples.

  16. PhaedrusV says:

    Problem: It’s extremely difficult to get good, honest medical advice online for free, and it shouldn’t be. Medical professionals are (rightfully) scared of being sued if the inquirer ends up dying of that thing you told them wasn’t serious.

    Potential Solution: Pirate med! An online repository of medical advice provided anonymously to asked questions. Anonymous donors & contributors, hosting in pro-freedom jurisdiction, the whole package.

    Question 1: Since there appear to be a lot of medical providers on here, what sort of anonymity setup for the site would it take for you to hop on and answer a few questions honestly during your down time? Can randomized logins 4chan style and a VPN get you contributing, or do we need to TOR the whole thing? Any other concerns on your end?

    Thoughts on construction: I think a stack overflow model would work well, where answers to a question can be provided by anyone and the community upvotes the ones they find most useful for follow-on searchers’ ease of use.

    Ideally, I’d like to see a decision tree system eventually where an inquirer inputs their problem and symptoms and follow-up questions about potentially paired symptoms, medications, etc, are automatically generated. The end result should probably be a confidence interval (Flu: 91%. COVID-19: 8%. Lupus: <1%) (Is it obvious yet that I'm not a medical professional? I'm sure this would be fiendishly tough, but it's hard to imagine building something useful any other way)

    I happily quitclaim any rights to this idea if someone else feels they can develop it. I have no relevant skills in software or medicine.

    • matkoniecz says:

      Also whoever hosts this contraption may have problems.

      Also, note that it is likely that it will be overrun by trolls, idiots, vandals who will have more time to give free advice than doctors. AKA witches and libertarians problem.

      The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.

      https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/01/neutral-vs-conservative-the-eternal-struggle/

      I am betting that consensus on such site will be not matching reality or medical consensus or an useful advice.

      • Vitor says:

        Well, the site would need to be heavily moderated for this to work, and anonymous users would need to have a way to gain reputation over time, even if their public-facing handle were to change every time they post.

        Question: if a doctor evaluates the quality of other people’s medical advice and deletes the bad advice, is that action in itself providing medical advice?

        • PhaedrusV says:

          I think it would be important for bad advice to be down-listed but not deleted. Only trolling should be deleted. See my other comment below.

          Again though, I’m just trying to think through how this might work. Anyone who actually puts in the work to develop this can run it however they want. I firmly believe though that importing the “only verified science” or “for their own good” lenses into this project will render it stillborn.

          See also Scott’s struggle with getting the medical mouthpieces to admit that masks might be helpful with preventing COVID transmission.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        Swedish hosting, or TOR if absolutely necessary (although that would dramatically cut down on people accessing it. I think TOR should be avoided unless necessary. Maybe a mirror on there for providers who are extremely scared about litigation).

        The Stack Overflow model would help with the trolls & vandals problem. If you haven’t been on Stack Overflow, check it out. Top Comment quality is insanely high, and I’m certain the model would port to non-software-engineering. An active mod team on Pirate Med could also help shape the community by aggressively removing outright trolling.

        This brings up another thought though: this being the internet, I’m sure that Pirate Med would have tons of answers about how -weed/sugar pills/crystals/magnets/not getting vaccinated- would cure the problem. I suggest not censoring that stuff. It would remove the credibility of the site (oddly enough). The upvoting system will help the supported answers rise to the top, but people should be able to reach other info if that’s what they want; that’s the whole point.

        • matkoniecz says:

          and I’m certain the model would port to non-software-engineering.

          I am familiar with it (and was active there until recently), and they have multiple sites not about programming. See https://stackexchange.com/sites#

          But antivaxers, bleach drinking enthusiasts, homeopathy, alternative medicine, crystal healing and similar seems to be quite unique. And without equivalent among for example programmers, photographers, hikers, 3D artists, writers etc.

          Based on my experience number of deranged/malicious/scamming/idiotic people around medicine is vastly higher than in other areas. Homeopathy quackery is even sold in pharmacies in some places!

          BTW, there is https://medicalsciences.stackexchange.com/

          • PhaedrusV says:

            But antivaxers, bleach drinking enthusiasts, homeopathy, alternative medicine, crystal healing and similar seems to be quite unique. And without equivalent among for example programmers, photographers, hikers, 3D artists, writers etc.

            Come on, you really don’t think LISP guys are a little bit like alternative medicine gurus?

            Thanks for the link to medicalsciences.stackexchange, I had no idea. I haven’t dug in deep yet but I expect they’d be limited in their ability to provide accurate data for litigious reasons. In the US we’ve historically held platforms blameless for content posted on them, but that’s starting to shift legally as platforms like youtube and facebook are able to demonstrate wide scale censorship.

          • PhaedrusV says:

            After a little more digging it looks like the site you linked is a lot more theoretical than practical. It doesn’t answer the sorts of questions people hope for answers to when they log onto WebMD. My search for “stomach ache and fever”, for example, returned 1 unrelated hit.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Thanks for the link to medicalsciences.stackexchange, I had no idea. I haven’t dug in deep yet but I expect they’d be limited in their ability to provide accurate data for litigious reasons.

            I am betting that they ban personal medical advice and expect questions to be very widely applicable. But maybe in some situations it may be useful. For example home births risks for pregnancies without known issues may be fitting.

    • PhaedrusV says:

      In case anybody in the medical profession doesn’t get how hard it is to find good advice online, let me provide the example that kicked off this thought series.

      When my wife was pregnant with our first back in ’16 we started researching. I’ve got a background in statistics; she has a doctorate in Physical Therapy. There are no useful summaries of actual risks levels. No risk info for people who were following the basic guidance about smoking, drugs, weight, etc. Given the number of babies born in the world, this lack of info blew my mind.

      After much digging I found a chart that showed that severe adverse outcomes (death or long-term hospitalization of mother or baby) were minimized if one planned a hospital induction, but the data wasn’t clear enough for my tastes and there was no attempt to handle confounders. We ended up electing to do a planned induction in the hospital. Everything went normally. It was a nightmare.

      Apparently there’s this thing called the cascade where once you induce, the body tends to respond in a way that leads to the need for a c-section within 6-8 hours. My wife’s recovery was normal, and terribly painful. My 3 year old is healthy. I was on Tricare at the time. I don’t have much to complain about, but the experience was so terrible and poorly understood that…

      Baby 2: Midwife time! Partly because I wasn’t on Tricare any more, partly because I didn’t trust the birthing doctors we talked to, and partly because my mom used to be a practicing midwife, we looked into supported home birth and found that IT IS AWESOME! I’ll cut this comment less-long, but for non-high risk pregnancies, it would blow my mind if people regularly chose a hospital birth if they were adequately informed on what hospital and home birth are actually like, and the risk levels and recovery times of each. Apparently the Europeans get it; tons of home births over there, and lots of midwife-assisted hospital births as well. Seems far superior.

      It was really the complete lack of data that blew my mind though, especially about medical procedures as common as birth.

      • matkoniecz says:

        It gets worse. Even doctors often refuse to give useful answers.

        Sorry for a morbid example following, but nearly all doctors treating people with cancer refuse to give any answer for questions about expected remaining lifetime. Even in case of patient explicitly asking about. And explicitly mentioning that answer with wide range is perfectly acceptable and that perfect accuracy is not expected.

        (note: second-hand info – reported by a family member, situation in Poland)

        • noyann says:

          They wish to not set an expectation that exerts a nocebo effect. (Can’t find the study that Asian immigrants had a higher mortality in years that were ‘bad’ for their astrological sign, dammit.)
          An oncologist here does the opposite, on delivering the diagnosis he immediately makes all appointments for the next five years.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Good point.

            But I am not convinced that refusal to give any prognosis is a good solution. Especially after request from a patient.

          • noyann says:

            There is a lot one does not learn at med school…

        • albatross11 says:

          My dad’s oncologist was clear that he couldn’t predict a precise timeline, but that he was unlikely to survive another year. (He died about six months later.).

      • Randy M says:

        After much digging I found a chart that showed that severe adverse outcomes (death or long-term hospitalization of mother or baby) were minimized if one planned a hospital induction

        Do you recall the specifics and how it compared with your experience?
        Was it the case that the study omitted home (and therefore low complication) births, or that they did not count inductions that did not proceed to C-section?

        • PhaedrusV says:

          It was just some poorly cited 2×2 chart in some article, I forget where. It had the adverse outcome percentage for people who planned/did not plan induction, and planned/did not plan c-section.

          The upshot of it was that an unplanned induction caused more problems than a planned one, but it was obviously lacking any analysis of confounders (such as the cause of the unplanned induction). It was obviously trash, but in the complete void of useful info anywhere else it was the only solid-ish data point we had, so we went with it.

          The article did not discuss home births. I couldn’t find any remotely rigorous studies about home births at the time (haven’t looked recently).

          Ultimately it was all actually a little reassuring, because I eventually realized that the likely reason the data didn’t exist was that there was no significant risk for healthy moms and babies in the developed world. Still, it would have been nice to see some data-based explanation of that fact, instead of just being stuck deducing it.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, thanks. Fwiw, my story is similar to yours, first hospital birth that ended in C-Section (that my wife will absolutely swear was unnecessary), two subsequent home births that went fairly well.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think I can get medical advice from randos on the internet already. What would be more useful would be a guarantee that I was getting a consultation with a real {cardiologist, oncologist, psychiatrist} that somehow landed in a more sane jurisdiction for any malpractice claims.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        That might be interesting. 3rd party vetting, voice garbelers, shaded informant-documentary style camera work… for some decent medical advice online.

        I’m just envisioning something that helps people make the “ER, appointment, or wait a bit?” decision with better information. I’m not trying to compete directly with hands-on medicine.

    • Jake says:

      I’m a software engineer and my sister is a doctor. We’ve had long conversations about ideas like this. From the engineering side, yes, it should be pretty simple to make even a 70s-style expert system that follows a decision tree and gives you a probability of a diagnosis. For your average 20 or 30-something healthy person that goes to the doctor once a year to get some antibiotics for a strep infection or something, this system would work awesome (which also happens to be a lot of the demographic that think this would be a great idea.)

      Her response is that a lot more of her work as a primary care physician is not in the diagnostic realm, but in trying to convince patients, especially those with chronic conditions, to do what is best for themselves, and trying to navigate which of the outcomes are actually feasible for the patient to accomplish, which is a lot more nuanced task.

      The other problem, is that a lot of the steps in diagnostic/treatment currently require a doctor’s orders to actually execute, whether it’s getting labs drawn or trying out a new medication, there needs to be a doctor in the loop in the current framework. If you were to automate the system, one of the arguments is that it would make it too easy to get bad treatment by just knowing the right steps to follow in the program. Think of how many people already try doing this, even with doctors in the loop, to get things like opiates or stimulants, and it would be even easy for them, if they didn’t have to convince a human first.

      I think it would be a great idea, and doctors already have access to a lot of programs that will give them similar diagnostic capability. It would be great to have those publicly available as well, but I think the most likely outcome would be similar to what has happened with WebMD and other sites, with tons of people showing up to their doctor saying “I think I have Ebola, because all the symptoms line up in the tool, even though I’ve never left my house in Northern Canada for the last 20 months.” (a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea)

      Adopting this idea as a front-line treatment for mild symptoms of the type currently allowed to be treated by telemedicine I think is the next logical place to go with it. Have a system where you can call in and say “I have a fever and a sore throat”, then a computer orders you a strep test from a nearby lab, and if it comes back positive, is allowed to write a prescription for an antibiotic, with the whole process costing $20 or something, is probably the next evolution of the system, but I don’t see it going much beyond there, because of the potential for abuse.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        Thanks, very helpful inputs. Obviously it would be nice to eventually have a tele-medicine AI assist, but in the short term I’m just envisioning something that helped people make informed “ER/Appointment/Wait a bit” decisions when they notice something wrong. You know, what WebMD could be if it were immune to litigation.

    • Garrett says:

      I think a good part of the problem is that you are asking for something different from what you are asking for.

      First: Medical advice by-name is a specific legal concept. When you are asking for medical advice, you are asking for “the provision of a formal professional opinion regarding what a specific individual should or should not do to restore or preserve health.”

      This generally means an individual consultation with a healthcare provider to be able to perform a detailed assessment. And if someone is able to do that online, why would they want to do it for free? A lot of people go into healthcare to help people one-on-one and they hate the associated paperwork. Having to deal with people only through a chat forum is like the worst of both worlds. (One EMT I worked with once said “I’d do this job for free if I didn’t have to write the trip sheets”)

      Providing “medical advice” also falls into the realm of not just legal but also licensing risk. If you screw up and get caught, you might not face any legal consequences. “Did you really think that a ‘DrCokeNose69420’ on a forum hosted in Sweden which explicitly disclaimed something as legal advice was actually something you should rely on?” OTOH, you never know what a licensing board will yank your credentials for – doctors are frequently required to disclose if they have any mental health issues as a part of maintaining their ongoing license. You think an report about “unprofessional” advice to a license board via an angry doxxer won’t cause a *single* bit of headache?

      But let’s go with something a little less formal. You want guidance or information about the practice of medicine to better inform yourself. Maybe you want to know about common treatment regimens for particular conditions. Or you want a way to figure out what might be going on. You’re going to end up with something like WebMD’s symptom checker. Yes, it might be cancer. It also might be lupus. It’s probably a muscle strain/sprain or a cold. But getting a more useful answer requires individual assessments. Very few people have enough medical knowledge to be able to report all of the relevant (and only relevant) information required to go through a detailed expert system. So you might reasonably be able to do better than WebMD. Maybe twice as good. But not 10x as good. And certainly not as good as a medical professional.

      Finding out what the current standard treatments are for a given condition is already fairly easy. (I use Wikipedia a lot) Figuring out what condition(s) *you* have, and whether the standard treatment is right for *you* is a lot more challenging.

  17. PhaedrusV says:

    I feel like a jerk for even mentioning this, but given what Scott gave away about his filtering method for banned users, beware people making usernames with common words that appear on the blog going trolling…

    Feel free to delete this comment if you decide to edit your post to remove that nugget.

  18. Bobobob says:

    OK, at the risk of trespassing on forbidden territory…I’ve only been active on SSC threads for about six months, and I am mystified by that list of newly banned participants. I’ve debated with (and seen debates with) lots of names on that list, and I’ve never felt personally offended. Even when someone says something like “All X’s are like Y’s, what losers,” that is usually the spur for an enlightening (to me) discussion about ingroups and outgroups, received ideas, new perspectives, etc.

    On the other hand, I have no idea what’s been going on on Twitter, so that is just my perspective regarding SSC open and hidden threads. There may be virtual jungle firefights going on of which I am completely unaware.

    • roflc0ptic says:

      Statements like “All X’s are like Y’s, what losers” can lead to productive discussions about the topics you’re mentioning. Given the right mix of participants and shared understanding about communication norms, they could even often lead to that sort of discussion.

      However:

      Statements like “What losers” aren’t value neutral: it ups the probability that people are going to go into tribal warfare mode. It lowers the likelihood of productive discussion. It biases the discussions towards repetitive tribal conflict, of the kind that HBC and EC often engage in. Plus, the statement “what losers” isn’t even falsifiable. It’s just like, you propagating your biases.

      There’s a specious argument that I see made sometimes, that being polite and measured somehow gets in the way of having good discussions, by taking too much work and stifling people’s ability to say what they mean.

      If it’s really important to your point to describe leftists as “foolish youth”, you’re not making an interesting point. You’re letting everybody know who you think the ingroup and the outgroup, in a way that has negative externalities.

      If being polite in conversation takes too much cognitive effort, it’s because people don’t know how to do it. Politeness and reasonable epistemic humility overlap to a great degree. It’s generally impolite to say “All X’s are Y, what losers.” It’s also not epistemically humble. If you can’t be polite, you’re almost definitely not being humble.

      A more honest, and not entirely incidentally more polite, formulation might look like: “Sometimes, when I’m feeling fired about about the culture war, it feels strongly to me like all X’s are Y. I’ve tried thinking about A, B, and C to give myself a more nuanced and generous understanding, but it’s not helping. Could someone else help me get more perspective here?”

      So being appropriately humble and realistic about what you know vs. what you suppose to be true vs. what your feelings are telling you for tribal reasons gets you a long way towards never saying stuff like “All X are Y, what losers.” But it requires being clear on what you’re saying, what your motivation for saying it is, and to ensure that your motivations aren’t tribal warfare. It’s a pretty high bar.

      But being polite to people is also rational on its own, not just because it overlaps with realistic epistemic humility. Adjacent to the initial point: It also helps the people responding to you not get tribal triggered. If you’re interested getting other people to respond to you thoughtfully, starting the conversation by forcing them to do emotional effort to quell their own tribalistic responses is a terrible strategy. If you’re not interested in getting thoughtful responses, then you’re just picking fights on the internet, and it’s rational for Scott to ban you.

      • Randy M says:

        It’s true that discussion will usually be improved by taking at least the low hanging politeness fruit of cutting out the gratuitous insults. But I have the impression sometimes that too much epistemic humility can result in a mushy statement that doesn’t actually establish much ground to argue from or against. Like, oh, this one, for example.

        • Nick says:

          What makes you say that? I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. I think that it is at least possible even in those circumstances to establish a relatively absolute statement.

          Joking aside, I know what you mean. Two observations:
          1. We sometimes encourage folks to reconsider, and we see (AFAICT genuine) retractions and apologies most of the time. Including in at least one of the linked comments for Germy Wise One. It’s one element of our self-moderation, or maybe I should say co-moderation. And I think saying something ill considered, retracting, and apologizing is much better than saying something ill considered and being banned for six months. But it’s still not better than not saying something ill considered in the first place, and maybe six month bans reduce that on the whole. It also introduces an expectation that you learn from what you did, and maybe the folks who apologized weren’t learning. I don’t know.
          2. Like you I value advancing the conversation, and I think some impoliteness along the way is tolerable. Of course it’s easy to say that in theory. But more than that we have to be careful here because SSC is such an unusually charitable place. There ought to be a law: there is no statement so asinine that a civil debate could not follow. But we can’t just judge the results and say “No harm, no foul” (as I am tempted to do many, many times) or we’re incentivizing those initially inflammatory posts. We’re saying, “You can say whatever you like, as long as other folks give you a free pass.” That’s not okay.

          What I do know is that I more than ever don’t like this approach to moderation, and I repeat my begging that Scott delegate.

          • roflc0ptic says:

            I can’t remember the name of the post, but Scott has that post about how to enforce rules with limited enforcement capacity. It seems like he’s following the rulebook he laid out there, and I mostly like it.

            He’s telegraphed pretty clearly what will get a person banned, and he’s following through. It could be helpful to have people who are empowered to guide the conversations/moderate stuff, but then, that has substantial time costs for Scott, too. Who does QC on the moderation? I prefer more posts and uneven, terrorist-style rule enforcement over Scott sinking more time into community management.

          • Purplehermann says:

            First offender model

          • Nick says:

            @roflc0ptic
            I don’t see how empowering a moderator could have greater time costs than Scott doing it all himself.

          • roflc0ptic says:

            Pretty easily, I think. Having a moderator, or a moderation team, that follows Scott’s way requires either 1. extensively documenting his thinking on moderation, so that another person can do it, or 2. extensively communicating with someone in real time about the content of the site. Either way, the coordination costs are steep and ongoing. And even with that, you can’t just get an off the shelf moderator here: you need someone who is sharp, conscientious, and shares Scott’s preferences.

            Plus, Scott seems really turned off by dealing with community drama – see his comment about why he waited so long to ban people. He’s managing this in a largely unaccountable way. When moderation actions occur with some hypothetical moderator, it’s hard to imagine there’s going to be any less drama.

            The idea of hiring someone incurs all of those issues and then some. The position needs to be funded, and adds further admin work for Scott.

            A subtler point is that a moderator, paid or unpaid, becomes another human Scott has to think about in an intimate way. Are they happy? Is he treating them well/fairly? It incurs cognitive load in the form of parsing out ethical obligations. We get a really limited number of slots for non-objectified Other People in our minds.

            If there’s someone who do Scott’s will without incurring coordination costs, then great. Without that, outsourced entails up front difficulty and ongoing costs, and I assume that Scott is doing the math right for himself.

          • Nick says:

            @roflc0ptic
            Sorry, but that strikes me as a series of weak or dubious arguments. Taking them in order, since I think they can be pretty easily isolated:

            1. extensively documenting his thinking on moderation, so that another person can do it

            He’s already documented it. To be sure, he would probably have to say more, but that’s a one time cost. I don’t see why you say the cost is steep and ongoing.

            2. extensively communicating with someone in real time about the content of the site.

            I don’t see why. Certainly he would have to communicate changes to his policy, but he already does that, like in this very post. That’s not particularly steep when you consider how much he writes at other times in the week, and it’s less ongoing than punctuated. The cost isn’t fixed, in other words, like it more or less is when there is some thousands of comments per week and some percentage which are reported; it only comes up when he wants to change policy.

            And even with that, you can’t just get an off the shelf moderator here: you need someone who is sharp, conscientious, and shares Scott’s preferences.

            Sharp and conscientious? SSC is full of such people! I seriously doubt no one could be found here; the subreddit has a whole team of people, too, remember. Scott wasn’t the one who found them, of course, but he didn’t have to, because someone else could also find them for him. And as for sharing Scott’s preferences, they only need to do what his moderation policy says. There’s a difference.

            When moderation actions occur with some hypothetical moderator, it’s hard to imagine there’s going to be any less drama.

            This is a good point. Drama around mod actions would, I agree, grow when the mod isn’t Scott. But if moderation on other sites is any indication, that’s not that big a deal. For one thing, a lot of drama is silly and can be ignored. For another, you’re discounting where the drama would decrease: many of the complaints that surface, for instance, are about the slow turnaround time and apparent harshness of the retaliation when it finally does come. Quick mod action would both better justify any of the ‘harsh’ actions (“Alice the mod warned Bob three times in the last month not to do that, and he still did it”) and curb behavior in the meanwhile.

            The big exception are cases where a mod strikes down a post Scott wouldn’t and we the people clamor for justice. How common do you think that would be? Do you really think those cases are plausibly more of a time sink for Scott than doing everything himself? Remember that we clamor about a bunch of cases already—seemingly the majority of all bans, even. I’m not sure how this could be expected to get worse.

            The idea of hiring someone incurs all of those issues and then some. The position needs to be funded, and adds further admin work for Scott.

            This is just not true; you even contradict it in your very next sentence. Mod positions don’t need to be funded; many, many positions are volunteer.

            Are they happy? Is he treating them well/fairly? It incurs cognitive load in the form of parsing out ethical obligations. We get a really limited number of slots for non-objectified Other People in our minds.

            This is true and a reasonable point—but let’s remember Scott is currently personally responsible for moderating all the comments on the entire site, which raises the same “Are they happy? Is he treating them well/fairly?” questions, to a lesser degree but to many, many more people.

            If there’s someone who do Scott’s will without incurring coordination costs, then great. Without that, outsourced entails up front difficulty and ongoing costs, and I assume that Scott is doing the math right for himself.

            Of course Scott is the person best placed to make this decision. I only beg that he reconsider, as I said from the start.

          • roflc0ptic says:

            He’s already documented it. To be sure, he would probably have to say more, but that’s a one time cost. I don’t see why you say the cost is steep and ongoing.

            The “sharp and conscientious” people that are in this thread seem to have a consensus that they don’t actually know where the line is. You can’t really have a rule-for-every-issue rulebook. A lot of it is “I know it when I see it.” For example: Someone made a post describing a third party as a partisan shill. They were not banned. Someone else who responded disparagingly got banned. Calling people partisan shills is usually bad manners and bad thinking, but is sometimes factually correct.

            Scott’s going to have to own all of the bans, whether or not he does them. I think we disagree about how difficult it is to recreate Scott’s editorial bent. Given the level of confusion and pushback he’s getting, clearly lots of sharp people are failing to create an accurate model in their minds. Scott’s a pretty clear communicator. Why hasn’t he *already* explained himself in such a way that everyone understands? Because it’s difficult.

            This is just not true; you even contradict it in your very next sentence. Mod positions don’t need to be funded; many, many positions are volunteer.

            You’ve misunderstood. I’m not saying that as a category, moderator positions must be funded, I’m saying that if you hire a moderator, that position needs to be funded. The claim that you would have to fund the position follows from the definition of “hire”. I maintain my assertion that hiring someone costs money and adds administrative complexity.

            The big exception are cases where a mod strikes down a post Scott wouldn’t and we the people clamor for justice. … Remember that we clamor about a bunch of cases already—seemingly the majority of all bans, even.

            So you’re saying Scott would need to pay attention here. I agree. You’re also saying that people complain about most of the bans. I agree.

            If I’m Scott’s moderator, I don’t want to be in the position where I’m banning people and having it rescinded. If I’m Scott, I presumably don’t want that either. Presenting a unified front means spending time coordinating, and again, emotional energy.

            I don’t know. I have managed a couple of software teams, and recently got out of a complex communal living situation. At this moment in my life, the time cost of “getting on the same page” with other people and worrying about their feelings seems… too high in almost every case. So perhaps I’m overestimating the cost. But humans regularly underestimate coordination costs, and I suspect that you are, too. And if perceived coordination costs (and the risks associated with failing to coordinate) aren’t what’s stopping Scott, I have no idea what else it could be.

          • Nick says:

            @roflc0ptic
            I will cop to things being pretty unclear at the moment. But I think we should distinguish between the extreme measures Scott is taking because not wanting to moderate more closely, and the measures he’d be taking if that were not so much an issue. Of course I can’t read his mind, and maybe he loves doing things this way. But things weren’t always like this, and I’m not sure anyone thinks current policy is great (if anyone does, say so!). So I’m not supposing that a hypothetical mod would come in and try to do exactly what Scott’s doing right now; the fact that I don’t like how things are now is exactly why I’m suggesting a mod.

            Like, concretely, I don’t expect that someone who devoted more time to moderating than Scott does a on a weekly basis would be handing out six month bans; more like one or two week bans. And more germane to your point: that people don’t know where to draw the line comes largely, I think, from moderation choices like that. Let’s imagine EC made those two linked comments. A day or two after the second one, he gets a week’s ban. Is there a public outcry? Maybe. But it’s harder to justify one when the ban is a week, and it’s likewise easier to simply ignore the outcry.

            You’ve misunderstood. I’m not saying that as a category, moderator positions must be funded, I’m saying that if you hire a moderator, that position needs to be funded. The claim that you would have to fund the position follows from the definition of “hire”. I maintain my assertion that hiring someone costs money and adds administrative complexity.

            My mistake; you are correct.

            If I’m Scott’s moderator, I don’t want to be in the position where I’m banning people and having it rescinded. If I’m Scott, I presumably don’t want that either. Presenting a unified front means spending time coordinating, and again, emotional energy.

            I don’t know. I have managed a couple of software teams, and recently got out of a complex communal living situation. At this moment in my life, the time cost of “getting on the same page” with other people and worrying about their feelings seems… too high in almost every case.

            We might be differing about the costs of keeping on the same page because I’m imagining one mod and not a team. My reasoning is that if Scott, a full time doctor who also writes this blog on the side, can afford to moderate things, then someone with a less busy schedule can afford to do it more. And I think coordination between two people (or more accurately, supervising and directing the work of one person) is much more manageable. If you think that’s an unreasonable assumption, that would explain some of our differences.

        • roflc0ptic says:

          Is “Like, oh, this one, for example.” self referential, or referencing my comment?

          • Randy M says:

            Sorry, self-referential, but disappointingly ambiguously so.

            My default mode is too wishy-washy and I try to correct in the direction of clear statements with only the caveats necessary for clarity.

          • Nick says:

            I didn’t find it ambiguous, but admittedly I’ve been primed to expect self referential humor from Randy.

          • roflc0ptic says:

            Haha, thank you for clarifying. It was probably me. I have been negotiating with a particularly bad faith actor this last week, and my conflict-mind is really activated. Statement has a less likely interpretation that’s an insult to my honor?!?! Knives out, motherfucker.

            And yeah, depending on how you operationalize it, epistemic humility is on a gradient with being terminally vague. I agree with Nick, that you can establish relatively absolute statements in the face of uncertainty. “Too much” epistemic humility, as defined by “you know it when you see it”, is unhelpful. It’s easier to proselytize than to practice.

      • Dan L says:

        Statements like “All X’s are like Y’s, what losers” can lead to productive discussions about the topics you’re mentioning. Given the right mix of participants and shared understanding about communication norms, they could even often lead to that sort of discussion.

        However:
        […]
        If it’s really important to your point to describe leftists as “foolish youth”, you’re not making an interesting point. You’re letting everybody know who you think the ingroup and the outgroup, in a way that has negative externalities.

        Quoted for truth; when pervasive, it makes it really easy for Xs to go elsewhere. I used to recommend SSC to people as a discussion space pretty highly, but it’s disheartening when people who could be valuable contributors decide this isn’t an environment worth participating in. It’s doubly a problem, because:

        “Sometimes, when I’m feeling fired about about the culture war, it feels strongly to me like all X’s are Y. I’ve tried thinking about A, B, and C to give myself a more nuanced and generous understanding, but it’s not helping. Could someone else help me get more perspective here?”

        This strategy doesn’t work nearly as well if there aren’t any Xs around. Anecdotally, I feel like there’s been a real increase in the number of “can anyone steelman* this view for me?” posts lately that have gone unanswered.
        (*Pet peeve – it’s not a steelman when built by someone who believes it.)

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m trying to understand why I wasn’t personally on the list of people on thin ice, if Plumber in particular was.

      As an example, in the last OT, I was explicitly claiming that certain political actors made me very angry, and that at least one of their positions (specified at the time) seemed to me to indicate they were either clueless or knowingly stating falsehoods. Several people then started arguing in favour of that position, or asked why I thought it was (factually/legally) wrong. After several attempted responses, I found I simply couldn’t explain without an aura of “talking down” to the people involved, and abandoned their questions unanswered.

      I think the difference may be that I framed my comments as “this makes me angry” and started with “this may be evidence that I’m succumbing to knee jerk political responsiveness.” Or maybe it’s that I walked away, rather than posting in a style that would have strongly suggested I thought of my interlocutors as at best exceptionally slow learners, and more likely disingenuous. But I don’t always manage either of those. So why am I not explicity on thin ice? (I do love a nice argument …)

      OTOH, maybe it’s just that I don’t post enough for Scott to see me as worth mentioning, even though it seems to me I post rather more than most.

      • Anteros says:

        You may post more than most, and yet that can be a rounding error compared to Plumber’s output..

      • Garrett says:

        > I’m trying to understand why I wasn’t personally on the list

        Part of the goal of any Reign Of Terror is to have people questioning their actions at all times. Deterministic rules provide a sense of safety. Vaguely arbitrary ones may lead to people being on their best behavior.

        • silver_swift says:

          Vaguely arbitrary ones may lead to people being on their best behavior.

          Vaguely arbitrary rules lead to people being on their most cautious behavior. There is a difference.

          That is not to say that people being more cautious about interacting with others is necessarily a bad thing, but too much of it can definitely have a chilling effect.

      • Plumber says:

        @DinoNerd; 

        Thanks. 

        Reading the speculation on what may have been my posting sin has been alternately hilarious or humbling, my take-away is to simply post a lot less.

        • Nick says:

          I hope I didn’t “humble” you too badly 🙁 FWIW I find the thin ice thing baffling, too. I was just giving my best guess as to what might have annoyed Scott.

  19. Purplehermann says:

    @Scott obviously it’s your site your rules//
    Bans:

    BackofFootLargeFuzzyMammalSocialGrouping has a lot of ideas that rub me the wrong way (I count this as a thought diversity bonus with him) and he seems to post a good amount, and he’s generally more or less civil.
    I like voiceBouncingOffWallsUnorderly, he posts a lot and he’s also usually fairly civil, the two comments linked aren’t horrible in context imo.

    Any chance to shorten their bans to around 1-3 months?

    LackingProprioception/handEyeCoordination’s comment seemed pretty tame especially in context, if it’s a one-off then maybe just a warning?

    In general, if it’s not too much work could you send an email to people you want to ban but aren’t going to yet? I personally would much prefer an earlier warning if you think I’m being horrible, and it could help in general with generally civility without knocking out as many commenters

    • Bobobob says:

      Those first two are the ones that surprised me, too. CadUrsineAspiringEagleScout and ReverberationPandemonium can both be counted on to move conversations along.

      • Anteros says:

        I’d vote to shorten the bans on EchoC and HBC.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

        • Wency says:

          Agree. I will say, of the two, I also think EchoC offended somewhat less, and I wonder if Scott is punishing them equally just because their views are contradictory and they spar sometimes.

          I only think Echo’s first comment was bad. The second maybe reads as more partisan and less insightful than we’d hope for, but it had actual content and wasn’t by any means uncivil.

          The 5 linked HBC comments mostly were unnecessary, provocative, basically without content. But Scott is digging back to last year here, and HBC posts a lot. Still think he’s a valuable contributor to the discussions.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Some of those people post a lot, and their worst 10% looks bad.

            I’d say the rest of their stuff makes up for that 10%, but the moderation policy may currently be “who makes the most headaches for me” instead of “who overall makes this place better.”

            This is not an irrational policy, especially if Scott is really busy. The alternative is the place completely collapsing.

            I am going to suggest that Scott should delegate some of the moderation work. There are lots of models, both volunteers and paid, both secret moderators and public.

          • Matt M says:

            and I wonder if Scott is punishing them equally just because their views are contradictory and they spar sometimes.

            Sparring is dangerous. As someone who has been banned twice before (and really doesn’t want to get banned again) I’ve basically made myself a mental list of “if you find yourself going back and forth with this person, disengage immediately” in order to try and prevent myself from getting caught in those kind of back and forth situations.

            And that sort of back and forth tribal-based argument is the sort of “Twitter at its very worst” atmosphere that Scott seems to be trying to desperately avoid.

            “Don’t quote or mention your tribal enemies by name” is a policy that could help people go a long way towards avoiding bans.

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t want to speak too much ill of people who can’t be here to defend themselves.

            But both the posters you mentioned did a couple things frequently that I think Scott is right to discourage:

            1) pushed the limit – made a lot of posts that may not have been strictly “more heat than light” but certainly had “significantly more heat than necessary to justify the light”.

            2) engaged in a lot of provocative back and forths that devolved (or threatened to devolve) into not quite ad hominem, but definitely stuff more like “attacking a poster” than “criticizing a concept”. Note that several of the linked posts are deep in subthreads that have long since spent whatever utility they had initially

            Both of these are bad behaviors that tend to degrade the quality of discussion, and more critically encourage bad behavior in others, without necessarily generating a single smoking gun “obviously bannable” comment.

          • Anteros says:

            @gbdub

            I reluctantly agree with you. Because I wasn’t involved in any of the long to-and-fros it’s easy for me to imagine they didn’t exist. And it’s no excuse that the long arguments were often between the two of them.

        • gbdub says:

          As somebody noted above, 6 months puts the ban just past the US election, which is probably best for both, considering what they were banned for.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          +1

        • silver_swift says:

          Acknowledging the fact that this is empathically not a democracy, I would vote the same way.

          The posts quoted for DubblesoundNotLawfull honestly don’t look that bad and while the ones for BackfootBabyBear definitely are crossing the line, they generally have high quality comments, so I’d be more willing to overlook things.

          I don’t know NotVeryElegants comment history, but the quoted comment also doesn’t seem particularly banworthy to me.

      • Enkidum says:

        Same, but I accept that our opinions aren’t the critical ones here.

      • Thegnskald says:

        One of those individuals previously received a warning about behavior.

        (I recall both having received warnings before, but only one is listed in the comments page.)

        • gbdub says:

          I think Scott made a previous “folks on thin ice” list on an Open Thread without giving explicit warnings on the comments page, which is probably what you are recalling (because I recall it too!) but I don’t know where to find it.

          • Anteros says:

            EchoC was banned a while ago, initially forever. The ban was reduced after a fairly widespread plea for clemency due to his general civility and high quality commentary. He was asked to refrain from mentioning a particular aspect of politics which he adhered to strictly.

    • Bobobob says:

      I don’t have as much familiarity with OrthographicallyUnhygienicHominid or CryptoGallic, but those bans were somewhat surprising, too.

      On the other hand, maybe you should keep banning people–it’s fun to come up with these user-name workarounds!

      • Enkidum says:

        Speaking as the person who was being responded to in one of the comments that got CryptoGallic banned, it’s amazing it didn’t happen earlier. When you reference actual living fascists positively and openly state that you don’t care about the rules of the site after being warned about repeatedly breaking them… I’m not sure what else you can do.

        Some of the others were a bit odd to me.

        • matkoniecz says:

          To quote that directly:

          Nothing will ever get between me and an honest answer to a question asked in good faith, and I don’t care what the rules are around here.

          • silver_swift says:

            They also ended that comment with “Send me to Deiseach by all means.”, which is pretty close to literally asking to be banned (I’m assuming this was during the time that Deiseach was banned).

      • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

        I have no strong feelings on the particular bans, approve of the efforts to increase civility, and wholeheartedly endorse silly name games.

    • aristides says:

      I also agree that FootTigerbaby and repetitivedisorder were two of the more interesting commentators, and I enjoyed their input. However, I do see that they crossed the line rather aggressively, and I think a 6 month ban is fair. I think a 3 month ban would be close to as effective as a 6 month ban, and could see lowering it to that, but I do not think a 1 or 2 month ban is long enough.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      CommandGivenToDogChicagoProFootball&BaseballPlayer does need to knock it off with all the eye-rolling, but I’m pretty sure that a warning would be sufficient to get that point across. Since I don’t recall such a warning being given before, the ban seems over the top.

      • Purplehermann says:

        I disagree, actual bans are useful. I do think private warnings earlier on would be a very good thing.

        I also would prefer they not be banned for 6 months

    • bean says:

      I’d vote against shortening HBC’s ban. He’s someone who has been here a long time, and has a history of high-quality comments, but his quality has been dropping lately. At one point recently, he attempted to link all Charismatic Christians to Kenneth Copeland (prosperity gospel televangelist) in precisely the sort of smearing-the-outgroup stuff that we really should be better than, and doubled down when called on it.

      • Purplehermann says:

        @Bean you don’t think 3 months is long enough for whatever effect you’re hoping to get?

        • bean says:

          It’s not “6 months is the objectively correct length of ban for his crimes”. It’s that he’s been pretty low-quality for a while now, and I’m worried about the message we’d send by shortening the ban.

      • Nornagest says:

        Seconded.

  20. Algon33 says:

    Why Plumber? He seems polite when commenting, though I tend to feel annoyed by him. But that’s mostly my bias. And he hasn’t even been posting for a while.

    • Enkidum says:

      That one confuses me too.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If the bans represents 10% of us that we wants to ban, all of us are probably on thin ice.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Yeah, Scott calling him out today seems bizarre in the context of his ~6 week absence..

    • yodelyak says:

      Checking back through open threads, it was back in 149.75 that @Plumber’s phone broke, so it’s been *quite* a while since he posted much. I went through several open threads /link posts 148 – 149.75, and didn’t find anything that seemed even marginally objectionable from Plumber, but I didn’t check any named threads, and obviously this ban update has been overdue for a longtime, so who knows?

      However, one clue is that Plumber does engage quite a bit with some other commenters who are more flame-throw-y, and his most common @__ in threads around 148 – 149 seemed to me to be echo__chaos, who did make the ban list, and got one of the longest bans. Looking at the two examples given to justify that ban, it seems clear from the 2-out-of-three rule why those comments didn’t pass–they were absolute 0%, total bagels, for ‘nice’ or ‘necessary’. I think the lesson all of us can take from a warning to Plumber is to be careful which threads we engage with, even if we ourselves are mostly being kind/true/value-added.

      Each of these echo-chaos comments highlighted was a clean ‘dunk’ on a perceived outgroup’s inability to think or avoid rank hypocrisy. That’s about as purely a character attack on an entire group as is possible to imagine, short of calling the group animals or insects… in some ways it would have been less insulting if echo-chaos had simply stated that “all liberals are fundamentally unworthy of trust or responsibility is a claim that follows logically from their position on Constitutional interpretation” or etc., because that at least makes the claim plainly, so it may be challenged equally directly.

      • yodelyak says:

        Continuing to pick on the two echo-chaos comments that are listed as the reason for that ban–
        Look at this one. It’s a plain attack on all people who tend to prefer Democrats as being purely and always hypocritical, contains no other content whatever, and is gleeful to boot. Even usually more sane/productive posters, like @Deiseach, when replying to that echo-chaos post, end up appearing to be in ‘dunking-on-libs’ mode.

        In another context, Deiseach’s comment that penumbra’s emanate could have been a starter for a good discussion. Someone could have chimed in that, while true that penumbras emanate, this fact was (a) surely not lost on the founders themselves, nor on Justice John Marshall, or else argue (b) mere words have always been shadowy creatures of human creation from the start, and of such warped wood no straight thing was ever made, and that even Scalia was quite candid that occasionally the dictionary failed him and he had to just go with something that made practical sense of garbled or nonsensical ‘original intent’, and/or simply respect precedent to keep the ship of state sailing.

        We might have gotten fun alliterations like “Jurisits determined to defer to dictionary definitions are doomed to delusional dictatorship, or desultory discipline by disruly data.” Instead, the libs who think differently than whatever it was echo-chaos would have us think is the noble way he thinks about things are now unAmerican, and Deiseach is an “honorary American” and the whole thread is hostile and crappy to anyone who knows too little about Constitutional Law to defend their general sense that it’s possible to be both A) a good American and B) think the Constitution requires interpretation.

        I would guess that Plumber’s mistake is not doing a little more to watch for whether being polite and noncommittal while interacting with comments like echo-chaos’s highlighted ones–that’s how Plumber ended up getting a warning.

        • Purplehermann says:

          @yodelyak you could be… a bit more charitable there.

          Definitely a dunk on the left, but I didn’t read that as an attack on “all people who tend to prefer Democrats”
          or an assertion that any Democrats are “purely and always hypocritical”.

          I read that as a dunk on the Left in the form of the assertion that when it comes which authority should be respected, (hardcore) leftwingers always think it should be theirs.

          Still not a shining example of behaviour, but your interpretation seems like slander

        • yodelyak says:

          @purplehermann

          I take your point. If I was inside the 1-hour window, I’d consider rephrasing “everywhere and always” to something less all-encompassing. If E-C is here, I apologize for the sweepingness of that characterization.

          However, to the extent the linked comment has any real semantic content at all, it really does read to me as claiming that Democrats have no coherent principles (at least w/r/t/ C-19) but rather simply believe in their tribe’s authority figures more than the other tribe’s. Either that’s a claim with zero content (and meant as no more of an insult than if he’d said ‘yellow team’) or it’s a claim that Dems are specially and uniquely hypocritical and therefore worth ignoring.

          I could think of some other things I might have phrased differently also. I regret mentioning ‘calling groups animals or insects’–which I think adds nothing here, and invokes historical episodes worth leaving out of a discussion that could remain civil. Live and learn I guess.

          I stand by my point that the linked comment has no contents whatever to redeem it from being a pure dunk on an outgroup. It scores a ‘zero’ for passing any one of the three gates. And the rest of the comments replying to it, even if not intended this way, are very easy to read as further piling on the same outgroup, and in a way that completely lines up with the culture war and so pretty much guaranteed to be all heat and no light. Unsurprisingly, it completely soured everything that followed.

          • Purplehermann says:

            @yodelyak

            I don’t disagree that the comment would have been better off not existing.

            Glad to see that you’re willing to reconsider the excessive parts of the comment.

            I won’t argue further about the interpretation of his comment, but will say that civility is two-sided, and trying to read comments charitably where and when possible, especially by people who are your “outgroup” is an important part of being civil (and would suggest putting some extra effort into that)

      • yodelyak says:

        In case anyone’s curious why I made time to dig into this a bit, well, I was very curious, but also I had waded into the Tara Reade thing a couple times in recent threads, and not-quite-within-the-1-hour-window regretted it, and wondered if Plumber’s mistake was similar, or if I could learn how thin my ice might be from his example.

        I don’t want to bring that whole story up here, I just am admitting that I think I am guilty of having underestimated how difficult some topics are, and the result is I ended up letting honest questions (like what a prior should be on whether specific foreign governments might be looking for ways to hurt specific Presidential candidate’s candidacies) come across as attacks on people who don’t have the same priors I have. Since my guess at Plumber’s likely offense(s) isn’t in the same category as mine, I’m still in the dark, but going to try and be more careful going forward all the same.

    • gbdub says:

      If I could hazard a guess, “college educated people” and “people who end up in gifted programs at school” are Plumber’s outgroup and he does sometimes engage in some less than charitable stereotyping of them. I recall being kind of offended a couple of times as a member of that group, but don’t have a specific comment to point to.

      But I too would like Scott would clarify a bit what out folks on the thin ice list.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Plumber engages in false stereotyping, but his whole schtick is “I’m old! I’ll update my beliefs if you can prove things that happened after 1980!” I mean, I remember him literally saying “I’m a Democrat because I’m a union laborer and I still think of Republicans as wearing top hats and monocles.”
        Maybe Scott finds this anti-charming, but he seemed popular.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t think he literally said that; I think LMC is thinking of Randy’s description here. As you can see, though, I endorsed it, because, well, it is accurate….

            Plumber made a lot of posts around that time along the lines of, “Here is the entire history of my political views, including the views of my parents and wife and coworkers, and all the sorts of progressives and conservatives I’ve met over the years.” It was interesting the first time, but he then went on to say basically the same thing in every thread for like a couple of weeks, including in replies where it was scarcely relevant. I don’t think any of it was especially offensive, Mr Moneybags or no, but it might have gotten to bother Scott after the tenth or twelfth time. I don’t know.

        • I’ll update my beliefs if you can prove things that happened after 1980!

          So far as I can tell, he does. He made some claims about Prop 13 being responsible for bad things in California, I offered data inconsistent with that, such as expenditure per pupil in California compared to other states post Prop-13, and I don’t think he made such claims again.

          I don’t think he is hostile to college educated people, just to the existing educational system. He has a view of the world biased by the bubble he lives in and the fact that he is, like some others here, a well educated auto-didact. He describes things from that view but seems to recognize that parts of it might well be wrong.

          I enjoy his posts.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman;

            Thanks.

            IIRC round about that thread some other commenters suggested and introduced me to the term “Washington Monument syndrome” which may explain much.

        • DinoNerd says:

          I probably like Plumber because I’m old too, and because elements of his political positions were shared by my parents, also strongly pro-union.

          OTOH, I’m probably in his outgroup – I went to college, became a techie, and moved into the SF Bay area. But he doesn’t seem to hold it against me personally, maybe because I’m down at the San Jose end, which he doesn’t consider to be his home ground.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            I like Plumber, and I’m young, extremely anti-union, and definitely in his outgroup.

            But he has generally struck me as being nice about it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think his insight is valuable because he’s a genuine blue-collar worker among a bunch of white-collar navel-gazers (like me). But maybe I missed something negative I should have noticed because I was valuing the minority viewpoint.

          • Plumber says:

            @DinoNerd, @Rebecca Friedman, & @Edward Scizorhands;

            Thank you.

            FWLIW, I married my “outgroup” as my wife is a college graduate who was born out of State, and our older son has “Tech” ambitions.

      • Bobobob says:

        I’ve never gotten the vibe that Plumber looks down on college-educated people. But I would be curious to know if he went to college and then pursued plumbing as a trade, or skipped college, became a plumber, and educated himself by doing lots of reading (which is not a bad way to go about things).

        • Plumber says:

          @Bobobob says:

          “…I would be curious to know if he went to college and then pursued plumbing as a trade, or skipped college, became a plumber, and educated himself by doing lots of reading…”

          Both.

          I was a weird kid who skipped classes and went to the library instead (first the public library, then I’d go to the nearby university library), at 16 I started volunteering for the local college radio, it was then a requirement that non-university “community” volunteers be enrolled at a certain class at a nearby local “community” college, when I re-enrolled for the next semester they noticed that I was under 18 and not yet a high school graduate and told me that I needed official permission from my high school to attend any further community college classes, the high school told me “Take this “California High School Proficiency Exam’ test on Saturday and you can”, I did, it was a long test but an easy on, I was then told “You aren’t a high school student anymore, leave”, so at 17 I enrolled full-time at the community college (I remember greatly enjoying the “Cultural Anthropology”, and “European History” classes), at 18 my parents told me to “get a job and pay rent”, so that was the end of my being a student (some folks have been able to pay rent and go to school full-time, but I couldn’t manage that trick), years later I’d enroll for some welding classes there but “academic” classes ended for me.

          When I met the women who became my wife she was a law school student at the university and her book shelf was one of the reasons I fell in love with her, and I eagerly read her books, she dropped out of law school and has been a house wife for most of the last two decades (FWLIW the overwhelming majority of the peers I grew up with who I know did get college diplomas are girls I knew who are now public school teachers, the overwhelming majority of the guys I knew just didn’t get college educations).

          So I had almost a blissful year of “Junior college” before I was 18, otherwise my further education was “trade school”, second hand, and a library card.

    • Plumber says:

      @Algon33 says:

      “Why Plumber? He seems polite when commenting,”

      Thanks! 

      “though I tend to feel annoyed by him.”

      Sorry!

      “But that’s mostly my bias. And he hasn’t even been posting for a while”

      I had planned a much longer “What I’ve noticed/thought about this last 50 days” post for this thread, but on sadly finding that our host has deemed me “on thin ice” I’ve shortened (a bit) what I planned to post.

      So, on March 16th my boss told me and most of the rest of the crew that we are “essential City and County of [Lankhmar] disaster service workers, we had our “Irish” breakfast feed the next day as we have done for decades, even as the crew changed from 95% Irish or Italian, to 90% Filipino or Russian (when I joined), to now mostly Irish (again), Latino, or Russian (still).

      During the week just before the lockdown/shelter-in-place-order I dropped the smartphone I was issued and until I got it repaired on April 30th e-mails and viewing SSC comments could only be done with borrowed devices which I just didn’t do often or for long. Now that I’ve seen a couple of e-mails and some posts asking about my welfare I’m touched and heartened.

      Thank you!

      Starting in October 2019 (according to my HMO when I called in) I’ve had a cough and/or sore throat most weeks (symptoms similar to those @Lillian described elsewhere), and I remember in November or December having a frightening shortness of breath for some weeks, really the symptoms seemed to be what had later been described for Covid-19, but the timing is too early. On March 23rd my wife woke me up in dark o’clock in the morning with some severe and uncharacteristic (for her) coughing, that morning my boss said that some deputies upstairs in the Jail tested positive and we aren’t to go up there for a while, I told him that since my wife was coughing and I had no outstanding service orders to do that weren’t for the Jail I’m asking for two weeks of sick leave, the next day I started coughing as much as my wife and our son’s had sniffles. After a couple of weeks the symptoms at my houses faded from what they were.

      I read a lot of fiction and took our younger son for many walks, listened to old songs and thought a lot about the plots of some old movies (Best Years of Our Lives, Make Way For Tomorrow, Tokyo Story, and Waterloo Bridge), plus some newer ones (Atonement, Locke, and Twentieth Century Women) and I cried a lot. In particular the striking (to me) differences between the 1931, 1940, and 1956 (re-named “Gaby”) versions of Waterloo Bridge seemed indicative and instructive of the character and mood of the times they were made and I thought to do an “effort post” contrasting them, but given my status I’ll shelve that for now.

      On returning to work most times I go into the jail my temperature is taken, apparently I run cold (usually 95 to 96 F) and almost have “anti-fever” all the time, when asked if I have any “symptoms” I truthfully have said “Yes, for decades now” (I work in dirty and dusty conditions which I’m a bit allergic to). I’m trying to get on the wait list for a Covid-19 test, but police and fire have first dibs, and my HMO just tells me to stay away “unless you have a fever”.

      The Jail has been greatly emptied out, cells that had a dozen men in them now hold only one to four, the hallways around the courts are far emptier, the few remaining lawyer and court worker ladies have been unusually flirty recently, which may be because they’re far lonelier now, or it may simply be that my appearance is greatly improved by my being masked! Speaking of flirting, this last Saturday I told my wife “I could look at you all day”, she did a dismissive gesture and said “You’re ridiculous”, but while she may simply have been laughing at me she had such a big smile that I’m calling it my “win” for the year!

      Our 15 year-old starts his first job next week!

      Only for one hour a week, for the private supplemental school we’ve been sending him to he’ll be tutoring a younger girl on some computer coding stuff, and he’ll get paid, so pretty exciting. 

      I may have a daughter! 

      I joined Facebook this last year, and a twenty-something women messaged me that “I know this is weird, but I think we’re related, I kind of just wanted to say hi and fill out any relevant medical information…”, my brother told me that some years ago she tried to contact me via him as he had a “social media” presence, and I didn’t back then.

      Could be a scam, but given her appearance, persistence, and the date of her birth, she’s plausibly my daughter.

      I e-mailed her back some family health history, and a brief description of personalities of her ancestors.

      • ana53294 says:

        @Plumber

        Glad you’re OK and back to posting.

        I don’t think scams are usually this persistent, so she probably really believes that. Could be true.

        • Plumber says:

          @ana53294 says:

          Glad you’re OK and back to posting.

          Thanks!

          “I don’t think scams are usually this persistent, so she probably really believes that. Could be true.”

          That’s my assumption as well.

      • he’ll be tutoring a younger girl on some computer coding stuff, and he’ll get paid, so pretty exciting.

        Very good. Teaching, in my experience, is a good way of learning.

        My first tenure track position was in the econ department of VPI, at a point when I had never taken a class in economics. Over a few years I ended up teaching a good deal of the curriculum. My conjecture later was that James Buchanan, who was the de facto dictator of the department, had set that up deliberately for my education.

        With regard to your putative daughter … . If both of you use 23 and me, they will tell you.

      • Garrett says:

        Welcome back! Glad to hear you’re doing okay.

        • Plumber says:

          @Garrett,
          Thanks!
          I finally was able to be tested for Covid-19 yesterday, now awaiting results.

          • If you are lucky, you have already had it.

          • Plumber says:

            I tested negative for Covid-19, and the cause of my months long chronic cough remains a mystery.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            To find out if you used to have it, don’t you need a blood test?

            The nasal swab just finds out if you have it now (or just got over it), right?

          • Plumber says:

            @Edward Scizorhands,
            That’s right, I just had the nasal/throat test, which I’ve read isn’t very accurate.

            I’m not aware of any accurate “you already had it” test that’s available yet.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Plumber,

            I started a short thread in 153.25 about getting the antibody test from Quest Diagnostics.

          • Plumber says:

            @Doctor Mist,
            Thanks for the link!

  21. Mellivora says:

    I’ve been writing a series of posts on my blog about Universal Basic Income (I’d recommend starting from the beginning, but it’s up to you!)
    Each post is from a different, specific perspective (so don’t expect to see all arguments exhausted in a single post – in fact, I’ve tried to avoid duplicating arguments, so I keep each point contained to the most relevant perspective).
    Posting them to the SSC subreddit has resulted in some interesting and pleasant exchanges, so I’ll leave this here in case anyone is interested, or wants to chat. Next new post is on Wednesday, from a liberal viewpoint.

    • Anteros says:

      Are you going to write any posts arguing the antithesis? You could have one each from all your current perspectives. Then you could attempt a synthesis.

      You may surmise that I think UBI a fundamentally bad idea, which is true. But I’m more interested in seeing how well you’d do in making the argument against UBI from each of your separate perspectives because it’s the best way to understand the entirety of the subject.

      • Mellivora says:

        Unfortunately, regardless of intentions, I don’t think many people would view such a thing as a good faith attempt. I have clearly shown my hand as someone pro-UBI, and my stance isn’t reached through a lack of understanding of the arguments of its detractors, therefore I think many would view such an attempt as disingenuous.

        Your thought is the kind of thing that would probably make for an excellent Adversarial Collaboration, so in the unlikely event that Scott were to run another competition, I might be tempted to throw my hat into the ring.

        Out of interest, what are your reasons for thinking that it is a fundamentally bad idea?

        • Anteros says:

          Admirably fair points.

          My opposition to UBI is that it incorporates all the worst aspects of the welfare system and then spreads this into a wider catchment area.

          If our fundamental material needs are food, clothing and shelter, it seems to me that providing those things for ourselves and our families (if it is possible) is what gives us our sense of being adult humans. Particularly, the work involved in doing so. But it is also true that most of us have some laziness within us, and at the margin indulging this laziness has negative consequences. By making it easy for us to have those fundamental things without lifting a finger, it’s tantamount to taking away (for many of us) that which gives our sense of adulthood, competence, and self-worth.

          I once had a relationship with a woman who was born into the welfare system (in the UK, where the welfare ‘benefits’ system is quite comprehensive) She died having never worked a single day in her life, and I say that as a criticism of any UBI-like system that would take away her need to work, and not as a criticism of her. She was lazy (like me, as it happens) but intelligent and quite capable of working. She was denied all the fulfilling things that work provides because the necessity for work had been removed. I should add that I was against the idea of universal benefits before I met her.

          UBI would extend this to an even greater number of people, including the many whose meaningful existence is predicated on the need to work. Take away that and you’re left with a whole lot of misery, daytime tv and pizza.

          There may be a difference if everybody is receiving the benefits, but I doubt it. My experience of people not having to work is that generally it is an incredibly dispiriting situation. Inflicting this on everybody can only increase the suffering.

          • gbdub says:

            This seems like a typical mind issue. I think there are many people who do indeed require “meaningful” work to feel “fulfilled”. And yes “inflicting” idleness on these people is bad.

            But:
            1) not everyone is like that, and the current system “inflicts” on them the need to struggle in dull or difficult work simply to survive

            2) UBI / welfare need not “inflict” idleness. Current welfare systems have some cliffs in them that make it difficult to work a little, or work a low paying job, and be worse off (by losing all or part of your benefits) than if you had stayed idle. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact the U in UBI ought to address that neatly.

            3) “what is fulfilling” and “what is remunerative” are frequently misaligned for many people. UBI might allow more people to “follow their dreams” into less well paying but more personally satisfying work.

            4) UBI is somewhat utopian and really assumes a post-scarcity (or nearly so) world. In such a world there may simply not be enough “meaningful” work to fully employ everyone. Today a bus driver can work a hard day and go home knowing he made a useful contribution to society. 20 years from now he may simply be miserable that he’s doing busywork a robot ought to be doing instead.

          • Anteros says:

            Just to pick up your last point. It may be true that the widespread technological unemployment thing happens, but then again, it might not. It’s been a concern for hundreds of years and yet..

          • Anteros says:

            I’d like to add that you make a very cogent defense of UBI.

          • gbdub says:

            (Thanks for the compliment – this is replying to your first reply)

            Sure! But to my mind your objections to UBI essentially require that technological unemployment never happen. Otherwise idleness will be inflicted upon us whether we like it or not.

            What do you propose we do if it does?

            It seems like will we / won’t we go post scarcity may be the crux here, and I think a lot of UBI discussion can go awry if the participants aren’t clear which side of that crux they are on.

          • Anteros says:

            I don’t see it as quite such a dichotomy. There’s a certain amount of unemployment currently which is both higher and lower than it’s been in the past. Technological unemployment is simply one of the things pushing in one of the directions. Since the invention of the wheel it hasn’t managed to overcome the preponderance of new occupations being created.

            As such, I think the discussions of a (suddenly-occurring) post scarcity are a bit fanciful.

          • Mellivora says:

            Interesting. I have heard perspectives similar to this quite a bit before, but the way you phrase it puts me in mind of Herzberg’s Dual-factor theory, with Hygiene Factors and Motivational Factors.

            Food and shelter are classic Hygiene Factors – the lack of which is demotivating according to the theory, but they do not provide fulfillment in themselves. I agree that for some people their job can be fulfilling, but others certainly find their fulfillment elsewhere.

            Reading about your experience with someone on benefits being lazy – my interpretation of the causes of that situation is almost the exact opposite of your conclusion. I would say that rather than the money itself, it is exactly the way that the benefits are administered that drives people into this kind of helpless stupor:

            The people I have come across that are on benefits find claiming them to be a job in itself – not full-time by any means, but it takes time and effort, and is remarkably stressful. This constant low-level stress about whether the government will sanction you at any moment, leaving you with nothing to live on, takes its toll and leaves people feeling disempowered and helpless.

            Add to this, the fact that if you were to find a job, the benefits would be taken away, you are left with a “devil you know” kind of situation. If you start a job, you might hate it, or they might not keep you on anyway – how long would it take for them to restart your benefits? You know how long it took last time, and that was a very difficult few weeks.

            If you found a full time job, that’s great, but most people that return to work after illness have a phased return – it is a big shock to the system to start a job after having none at all, and most places don’t really allow for that. If you found a part time job, that might be a bit easier to get started with, but it might not pay all of the bills – you might still be reliant on some benefits. How much of your benefits would you still be entitled to though? You don’t know, and can’t find out until you are reassessed. Maybe it’s safer not to take the job after all.

            After enough of this, many people effectively teach themselves that there is no point trying to get off benefits. If there were no reassessments, no sanctions, no reduction in the benefits whatever you did, it would be much easier to try out a job. Ease into it, earn a bit of extra money without worrying about whether your other source of income is going to be suddenly cut off. Perhaps decide that you like having a bit more money and you like getting out of the house and seeing your coworkers, so you increase your hours.

            Anyway – I don’t disagree that it is very sad when people are this demotivated, and don’t achieve their potential. I think it is a very reasonable thing to be concerned about. I just think that it is the bureaucracy rather than the free money that crushes people’s souls.

          • 205guy says:

            > the many whose meaningful existence is predicated on the need to work

            I find this to be an extreme statement that is patronizing and borderline bad faith, or at the very least not thought through. Essentially, it seems to be saying that those who would benefit from UBI (the poor and welfare class) deserve neither leisure or free will, and worse, they should be enslaved (not given the option to not work) for their own good.

            In his/her reply, gbdub gave a good rebuttal of the underlying sentiments, but I find this statement to be so over-the-top that I’m surprised it hasn’t already been called out in a non-CW thread.

          • Aapje says:

            @205guy

            The belief that an excess in idleness/leisure is bad for people is hardly extreme*, nor is it typically limited to the lower class.

            Believing that it is particularly a threat to the lower class doesn’t require believing that idleness is worse for them, but rather, can be due to a belief that higher classes are better at avoiding excessive idleness in themselves and those near them.

            You seem to regard leisure as an unalloyed good, but don’t seem to recognize that many others don’t share this premise. To them your ‘deserve […] leisure’ may seem as incongruous as using ‘deserve alone time’ to describe an environment that creates lots of lonely people.

            * Nor innovative, as such sentiments can be found all through history and in different cultures.

        • Furslid says:

          I think you should to show that you are aware of the arguments against UBI and why someone would disagree. Otherwise people may think that you haven’t considered their opposition.

          • Purplehermann says:

            More importantly, they won’t get as full a grasp of the topic if they’re noobs like me

        • Aapje says:

          It might accelerate the bifurcation that is already developing in society. Also, are we going to require even more of a constant influx of migrants that we exclude from UBI, so they will do the shittier work? Cue a lot more ‘you will not replace us,’ as well as a risk of a major crisis if that influx stops.

        • mtl1882 says:

          All the pro-UBI arguments I’ve seen (yours included, tbh, as far as I could see) seem to limit their thinking to first-order effects and extremely near-term futures, imagining worlds where we keep our current society and current people, except with less need for paid labor.

          Yeah, this is a super common issue with any policy debate (it’s happening a lot with pandemic-related stuff). This doesn’t mean UBI is not worth considering, but something like this changes a bunch of fundamental assumptions/values/expectations/social affiliations/ambitions in a way that results in a different society in the not-so-long term. It’s not the type of thing you can treat as a controlled environment, because you can’t direct the forces.

          I think we’ve been undergoing a pretty massive shift in the last few decades that isn’t as different from a shift to UBI as people might be think, though. I think we already broke with enough of the modern participation in the workforce assumptions to create a truly type of society, and haven’t really grappled with this. Otherwise UBI wouldn’t even be being considered in the way that it is.

          The biggest effect of UBI would be to break the spell of the current system, throwing out the old standards for how things “have” to be. Which are unusually narrow and complex compared to earlier times, even if the result is that they create great wealth overall. In the long-term, I actually think it could let people regroup and become more productive, but that depends on how much this interferes with the plans of their “superiors.” It is possible they could rebuild a flexible and organic economy for those who wanted to participate, without threatening the billionaires, who seem content to ignore them. That isn’t doable now because the system requires everyone to view themselves as a worker or potential worker, in the structures as currently arranged.

        • Aapje says:

          @mtl1882

          I actually think it could let people regroup and become more productive

          But the thing that very many advocates see as a positive aspect of a UBI is the removal of pressure to be productive in the capitalist sense (where other people see your work as being worth their money).

          You can argue that there are non-capitalist forms of productivity, but there are all kinds of challenges here:
          – People doing things they consider productive, but almost no one else does (like writing books/blogs that close to no one reads).
          – Social rewards being much more effective for people-oriented people (men already seem to be increasingly checking out, so this would likely accelerate it)
          – Prosocial rewards being much better for well-educated people, so this not being very helpful to the less educated
          – People trying to find approval in the exploitation of prosocial behaviors, which in turn causes an anti-social backlash. For example, imagine a ton of people pushing their shitty music/writing/etc on you, expecting you to evaluate it all.

          This may be another policy that is irrelevant to the lived life of most of the well-educated, is a boon to a minority of the well-educated or those near them, while resulting in a large quality of life decline of the lower class.

        • mtl1882 says:

          But the thing that very many advocates see as a positive aspect of a UBI is the removal of pressure to be productive in the capitalist sense (where other people see your work as being worth their money).

          Yeah, I should have been clearer on this, but that was what I was getting at. People see it as an alternative to current problematic arrangements, and that is what it would be in the short-term. Freedom from that. But I think over time, it could create its own alternatives. I don’t think most people have a fundamental problem with being productive–I think they enjoy it when it is done in a way that feels useful, but capitalism can go in unhealthy directions in which it feels oppressive, and which doesn’t actually want their best work or to compensate them properly for it. But there doesn’t have to be so much pressure in a different system, especially not the psychological pressure of ours that in some ways leaves little choice for many. The rigid schedule of modern work and other issues are what most people resent. I’m not saying it would be a utopia or anything, but it could be a lot different from what we’re used to. And not everyone would have to participate. It’s also possible to be productive in hobbies that don’t make a lot of money but that still would have some value if people had the time and resources to form communities and work on such projects.

          People doing things they consider productive, but almost no one else does (like writing books/blogs that close to no one reads).

          Yes, I think a lot of this would happen. It is possible they’d have more readers in a UBI world, though, where people had more free time and interests. And I think many people absolutely would need ways of finding social rewards and would find ways to do so in the new system. This could be done through various communities with different roles, as in the past, not national companies that replicate prior conditions. UBI is viewed as a passive thing, almost a withdrawal from society, but it would eventually lead to active responses, I believe.

        • Aapje says:

          @mtl1882

          An issue is that a large part of the quality of life improvements that we’ve seen comes from hyper-specialization. Capitalism helps bridge the gap between the diversity in our own life that most people prefer to have, while we also tend to prefer the fruits of a not so diverse life lived by others.

          Are people willing to give that up or is an UBI just a mirage where people think that they can have their cake and eat it too?

        • mtl1882 says:

          An issue is that a large part of the quality of life improvements that we’ve seen comes from hyper-specialization. Capitalism helps bridge the gap between the diversity in our own life that most people prefer to have, while we also tend to prefer the fruits of a not so diverse life lived by others.

          Are people willing to give that up or is an UBI just a mirage where people think that they can have their cake and eat it too?

          I don’t disagree with your general point. To me, UBI getting passed presumes a world in which many of these workers are basically unnecessary. Either these fruits are getting made without them, or the system has become dysfunctional in a way that diverse fruits aren’t really being produced. In any event, there are some people who would be willing to give that up, or who would not realize what they were giving up but would adjust to it, but I don’t know how many. Also, people on UBI could end up bridging some of each other’s simpler gaps eventually in different ways. I totally understand the wonders of capitalism, but my personal experience has been that there are many instances today in which it is not efficient in practice. I don’t expect communism or anything to work better, but a more organic, flexible, local market could arise among UBI recipients.

          @Zephalinda

          I understand your point, and I’m not talking about me and my friends. I am under no illusion that most people would exemplify bourgeois productivity. I was trying to say that such productivity is not the only kind, and that I basically see UBI getting passed in a world that accepts many workers have no use in the economy as it exists. It would understand that the purpose of UBI was not to make them behave as they were supposed to prior to UBI.

          What I am saying is that people like to be productive as in they like to make things. Build a shed. Plant flowers. Make custom sneakers. Film a YouTube makeup tutorial. I’m just listing the simplest kind of things here. Over time, this can turn into bigger things. When you have more time and less to worry about elsewhere, these things take on more significance. You help a friend with a similar project. Etc. That’s what I’m talking about. Some people do more significant things than that, obviously. Some play video games 24/7 (this is hacking their drive to be productive, and possibly could be productive in some way, such as if they stream their playing or use the skills/motivation elsewhere). But people like to fiddle with and make things.

          I don’t feel very productive after all my prepping and training to be that way, in the jobs that are available to me. It feels like busywork. To me, a lot of those higher values have become dysfunctional in our society already. So I don’t worry about UBI being the start of a descent into hell–more of a response to the descent. I am not an idealist and have no vision of a utopian world after UBI. I just think most people want to do something with their time, even if it doesn’t meet the standards of a bourgeois striver. I agree that TV, superstimuli, and atomization are real concerns. I consider these separate social issues to address, not givens, and I think our dependence on them is in part due to our dysfunctional economic and social systems in which people don’t feel in control of their work and lives. UBI is a response to this. It will intensify it for some, but may offer a new beginning for others, by giving them new outlets and alleviating other pressures. I doubt many of these people are very productive now, even if they are working.

        • Aapje says:

          @mtl1882

          An issue is that part of the population is outcompeted primarily by foreign workers and migrants, rather than by robots.

          So unless we get Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism relatively soon, it requires a permanent working class that doesn’t get a UBI. Pretty much everyone accepts a permanent underclass of robots, but neither believers in equal outcomes or equal opportunity can accept a permanent underclass of people.

          You can turn the native or national underclass into an underclass with better incomes and/or less pressure to earn (which may or may not make them happy, with the evidence not being encouraging), but then you still have the migrant or foreign working class who cannot get an substantial UBI without breaking the system, where lots of things get much more expensive (and middle/upper class Western people thus collectively get poorer).

          I don’t see advocates for a UBI arguing for the latter, so that means that they either accept that we exclude a group from it and have them be most of our working class or don’t understand the impact of their policy, where the latter seems by far the most common.

        • Loriot says:

          I don’t see advocates for a UBI arguing for the latter, so that means that they either accept that we exclude a group from it and have them be most of our working class or don’t understand the impact of their policy, where the latter seems by far the most common.

          More charitably, they may think that a SF Utopia is just around the corner, a belief seemingly shared with many people in the rationalsphere.

        • mtl1882 says:

          @Aapje

          Yeah, I think most people don’t really understand the implications, some believe a utopia is around the corner, and some are resigned realists who don’t see other options and intend to exclude a group to keep the system from collapsing.

    • georgeherold says:

      I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but failed. From the libertarian perspective, I wonder if you’ve read “In Our Hands” by Charles Murray?

  22. Erusian says:

    Why is corporate music so bad? Like, the music generated for corporate commercials is terrible. Even when they choose music from popular songs, they tend to choose a very generic type of quasi-indie pop that’s usually quite terrible and resembles the stock music they choose. (The genre isn’t terrible but they never choose interesting examples.)

    Now, on the one hand, I get it: it gets workshopped. I’ve been in those rooms. Too many cooks spoil the soup. But there’s three things that really fascinate me. First, you would expect some of the more advertising heavy firms to take bigger risks and they really don’t. Secondly, it has a stunning consistency, to the point where I once considered writing a stock music generator. And thirdly, it didn’t used to be this way. I remember a culture of embracing more conventional popular music as little as a decade or two ago. Admittedly, this is still pretty safe: Oh, something is popular, let’s get it in a commercial. But this doesn’t seem to be happening as much anymore.

    When did this happen? Why? I feel like I know a lot of amateur musicians that are various kinds of professionals, why doesn’t some enterprising young ad exec with a band insist on something that isn’t a super generic looping pattern that doesn’t really leave its key and gets louder and ads more instruments rather than any kind of note complexity? It’d certainly make your presentation stand out if I didn’t hear something so damn generic.

    • Bobobob says:

      I dunno about that. I remember a recent commercial featuring a snatch of Moondog, and one a few years ago that actually sampled Thick as a Brick. I would say that corporate music is actually getting more adventurous, not less.

    • tg56 says:

      It’s not all bad, my family still sings this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShWp1IbRKQE all the time which iirc was original for that ad campaign since I tried to find a long form of it. Though there’s no accounting for taste, I’m sure at least someone finds it really annoying. I know a fair number of people (myself and family included) who’s first exposure to certain songs (or arguably whole genres of music) that they now very much like was via the various Apple ads.

      There’s prob. some art critic vs mass consumer at play here. Desire to be inoffensive (or just the right memorable amount of inoffensive) as well. And if you’re giving a presentation etc. you don’t necessarily want the takeaway to be that was some awesome music, what were they talking about again? Etc.

      There’s probably also some kind of filtering mechanism at play as well. Most music is crap, corporate music vs. pop vs. other genres have different set of filters they go through to reach mass audiences which prob. drives them in different directions.

      • Erusian says:

        It’s fairly generic but this is actually the kind of thing I’m saying I don’t see happening anymore. Here’s a compilation, all from within the past ten years. They all share the same traits that make it generic: simple notes, no key or instrument shifts, adding more instruments as a cheap way to add complexity, and playing the same thing repeatedly only louder.

        • tg56 says:

          Interesting point, I missed that you were referring to this are a more recent trend (rather then a general property of corporate music historically). And I agree that anecdotally measured at least there seems to be something to that. Not sure what. My first thought as to what has changed is that advertising has become much more narrowly tailored as people’s media consumption has fragmented, but that should mean there’s more room to tailor music for the audience not less.

          • birdmaster9000 says:

            Are your family members fans of They Might Be Giants? They were hired to do a series of songs for Dunkin Donuts (including the one you linked) up until about 2009 I think, which would place it before the compilation Erusian posted.
            I might argue in a biased manner that hiring TMBG for an ad campaign automatically lands the ad outside the general categorization of corporate jingle.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            I thought that sounded like TMBG!

    • noyann says:

      It’s optimized not for the maximum attractiveness, but for the least repulsiveness.

      • gph says:

        Yea was going to say the same thing. A bit like how most the actors in ads are attractive but not threateningly attractive.

    • Beans says:

      I once considered writing a stock music generator

      Re-consider, that sounds great.

    • Furslid says:

      What happens if the music is an Earworm? I always hate when someone gets music stuck in my head, and if a commercial got music stuck in my head multiple times, I’d start actively avoiding the commercial and the brand.

      • Erusian says:

        Considering jingles are explicitly meant to be earworms, I think they’ve already bitten that bullet.

        • Furslid says:

          I don’t think jingles are earworms. They’re catchy, but they aren’t long enough for me to get them stuck in my head.

          • Erusian says:

            I suppose. I guess I’m just cynical but I think if you told a marketer, “I can get a three minute jingle into their head,” they’d go for it in a New York minute.

          • Anthony says:

            At the risk of transmitting the earworm to all of Scott’s California readers, the Kars 4 Kidz folks seem to think that it works.

    • drethelin says:

      I don’t know you but for myself, I certainly don’t listen to the vast majority of music that’s even EXTREMELY popular. Usually if I even look at a list of top 10 tracks in a month or something, I haven’t heard of any of them. Even people who listen to popular music still usually only listen to a fraction of it.

      So consider that it’s not that the music is bad, but that it’s optimized to appeal to the millions of people who are a relevant and profitable marketing segment that is not you.

      • Erusian says:

        The lazy counter: Do you know anyone, absolutely anyone, who listens to corporate background music for fun?

        • Matt M says:

          My fiance sources a decent part of her music collection from “songs I heard on commercials and liked.” So yes.

        • Lambert says:

          I think you’re describing the V A P O R W A V E movement.

    • KieferO says:

      I’m not sure if this is an answer, but it’s at least the correct statement of the question.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIxY_Y9TGWI
      It’s a video by a youtube music theory person (vlogger?). That offers a taxonomy of corporate music, along with a sample use for each sub-species. The tone is more negative than some hypothetical neutral observer would take, but I have reason to believe that a neutral observer would have less insight to this question than you require.

    • iprayiam says:

      Two points to note.

      One: I don’t hate corporate music, and in fact I’m surprised to find out that people do. (which will lead into my second point). I mean, I don’t seek it out and it’s not memorable, but eh. It’s generally just a smooth flow of a shallow, feel-goodish melody. It’s makes me feel goodish

      Two: I put corporate music in things for corporations sometimes as part of my job. I seek out three qualities: Innoffensive and unintrusive first of all. The third is kind of a momentum thing, and probably answers your question: I want it to sound like other corporate music. That is a short cut for “professional”.

      And that friend is how these things happen. It’s like the trends of shaky cam or everything being green in action movies over the past few decades respectively. Neither is particularly good. But they remind you of other movies that are professional, so people keep copycatting it until it is over exposed and chipped down to it’s bear core of resembling something else that was mass-associated with quality.

    • fibio says:

      Slight tangent, but I was on hold with my car insurance company the other day and I’m growing convinced that the hold music is purposely bad. No modern phone signal that isn’t being routed through a chain of a penguins holding hands across the antarctic should have that much distortion on the line! Also, why the hell did you only licence thirty seconds of this popular song and loop the chorus into the same verse! After fifteen minutes I was about ready to kill, let alone expand my insurance coverage! Is this just to stop people waiting around long enough to cancel their plan or just generalized incompetence?

    • Bobobob says:

      My favorite corporate music memory: an elevator Muzak cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper. (I am not kidding.)

      • Matt M says:

        One of my favorite video game soundtrack moments ever was in the “What the Heck” level on Earthworm Jim (which takes place in hell).

        The music starts off with the intimidating Night on Bald Mountain, then segues into elevator/hold music with human screams interspersed. Truly the most appropriate soundtrack for hell.

      • b_jonas says:

        Do you happen to have a link where I can listen to this?

  23. viVI_IViv says:

    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”)

    So Conflict Theory is officially banned?

    • toastengineer says:

      Only without presenting evidence, presumably.

    • theredsheep says:

      You could phrase conflict theory in a less inflammatory way (“the Republican party consistently supports policies which favor the wealthy and hurt the poor because it is in their constituents’ interests to do so”). Still a hot take, but less redolent of throwing down a gauntlet.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        A tiny minority of Republican votes are cast by the wealthy, so that doesn’t add up as stated.
        I have a negative opinion of the GOP and might try to steelman, but apparently I’m already on thin ice and this is an integer thread.

        • theredsheep says:

          I meant that as an example of phrasing a conflict theory claim somewhat less combatively than “all X are Y.” Whether the claim itself is true or false is of no interest to me.

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          Wasn’t the median Trump voter making like $85k a year?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Based on Nate Silver’s data, 72K Trump, 61K Clinton based on 2016 exit polling. US Median income was a bit over 57K in 2016. That’s not a huge gap, and given that it was based on exit polling in 23/50 states (where states vary widely, note his chart) using extremely coarse questions, I am sort of skeptical of his claim that we can get accurate median income data from them.

            His “Trick” of using census data to assign a number to each income bracket per state still strikes me as extremely lossy, and the ranges (30-50K or more) are wider than the intervals in the result we care about. For example, taking a “50-100K a year respondant” and saying “Well, state average for that bracket is 70K, not 75K so we’ll put them down as 70K”.

    • aristides says:

      I think the key word in those examples is “only”. You can be a conflict theorist that thinks politics is a struggle of domination. You can accuse political leaders like McConnell and Pelosi of also being conflict theorists that are struggling with domination. You can’t accuse every single member of the opposite party of also being conflict theorists. Mistake theorists are out there, and even if you think they are wrong, they honestly believe their chosen policies will help everyone, not just themselves. Especially in a comment section that has lots of mistake theorists, it’s uncharitable to impugn the motives of half the side. Assume people believe what they say they believe.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        You can’t accuse every single member of the opposite party of also being conflict theorists.

        You can add the #NotAllX caveats, but at some point it becomes an empty rhetorical device. The position of a party or a movement are defined by what it does in practice and what its key figures advocate for.

        To give a concrete example, in the previous thread there was a discussion about whether the different responses of the #metoo movement and the Left in general to the accusations of sexual misconduct levied against Kavanaugh and Biden were evidence of hypocrisy.
        Is making the claim “Left-wingers say they care about sexual abuse, but really they’re just after power” an example of “broad hostile generalization” that is not allowed here?
        Certainly the generalization can’t apply to 100% of the people who identify with the Left, but still, if we aren’t allowed to discuss trends then we can’t meaningfully discuss political ideologies and movements.

        • Purplehermann says:

          Maybe differentiate between the politicians, media, and citizen left wingers?

        • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

          I think it’s better to claim the more defendable and specific, “Prominent Democrats like X and Y say they care about sexual abuse, but it looks like they’re just after power.” If people round that off to “many, most, or all Democrats”, then it’s on them, not you. Phrasing it like that gives people who identify with the left wing the option to either agree with you that the Kavanaugh/Biden reactions were hypocritical and disavow the prominent figures, or to defend the thought leaders and argue with your characterization of their motives. The important thing is, you avoid attributing motives to groups broad enough to include large segments of the commentariat.

        • Hoopdawg says:

          Is making the claim “Left-wingers say they care about sexual abuse, but really they’re just after power” an example of “broad hostile generalization” that is not allowed here?

          Honestly, I couldn’t think of a more central example of “broad hostile generalization” even if I tried.

          But what’s striking to me is that this claim is actively detrimental to the quality of the discussion even if we insist on assuming the worst about entire groups of people, instead of regarding it a problem in itself.

          To wit, left-wingers are the ones who have broken out the story and made sure it doesn’t get starved by liberal media looking the other way. They are in fact perfectly fine with and counting on Biden being treated the same way as Kavanaugh. They do not support him after all, they made it clear even before Reade’s accusations surfaced. They have their own candidate of choice, one that is currently next in line to nomination were Biden to falter. Liberals, in turn, coalesced around Biden for the explicit purpose of stopping said candidate, and it makes it all the more difficult for them to ditch Biden now.

          A right-winger looking from a vantage point at which his entire out-group is homogeneous is, essentially, rendering himself unable to understand what’s going on even on a basic, generalized, surface level of group interests of merely two antagonistic factions.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            A right-winger looking from a vantage point at which his entire out-group is homogeneous is, essentially, rendering himself unable to understand what’s going on even on a basic, generalized, surface level of group interests of merely two antagonistic factions.

            Good point.

    • gbdub says:

      The comment section’s official “rules of engagement” have always been essentially Mistake Theory. But I don’t think it’s impossible to have a conversation under those rules that nevertheless assumes a Conflict Theory worldview.

      More pithily, you can talk about Conflict Theory, but you can’t engage in Conflict.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        More pithily, you can talk about Conflict Theory, but you can’t engage in Conflict.

        I agree that directly accusing the people you are interecting with of being disingenuous or dishonest doesn’t necessarily lead to productive discussion, but my point is that if you can’t ascribe conflict-driven motives to broad idelogies or movements, then you can’t really discuss politics accurately.

        • gbdub says:

          I agree, but I would call that “talking about conflict theory” not engaging in it.

          “This action only makes sense if you assume the GOP is operating from a conflict mindset” can have some value as a discussion point. “Republicans just hate poor brown people” doesn’t.

    • yodelyak says:

      This is a space where non-conflict-theorists expect to be able to exchange ideas in a win-win exchange. The internet is a graveyard of formerly successful discussion spaces of this type, many destroyed by outgroup bashing, so it’s not crazy for Scott to be pretty protective against even the appearance of letting this space trend toward a rah-rah-teams kind of space.

      The idea of marit ayin may be helpful here. In addition to being respectful toward the intent of the comments here, you need to work hard enough to make that intention reasonably apparent, so as to continue to foster a space that can be reasonably expected to be win-win.

      I think if you are a pure conflict theorist and want to post something like, “I’m an organizer for such-and-such issue/campaign/group and I wanted to leave a calling card for people who want to connect” that would be fine, at least so long as your group doesn’t endorse violence as a substitute for a more prosocial political process, and you keep the volume of your comments small enough that it respects the time of people who are in this space daily or weekly (e.g. don’t post an identical comment more often than, say, every six months, maybe? I’m not Scott, my opinion is, as the Dude would say, “that’s just like, your opinion man.”)

      If you are a pure conflict theorist who expects to find it fun to hang out here and serially say things like “my political opponents are unreasoning and unworthy of honest interaction” and do that rather than actually offer any positive policy or evidence in favor of your view — then go away.

  24. meh says:

    6 month ban is quite strategic, taking us until just after election day.

    • tg56 says:

      Ooh, good observation. Given the 6 month bans are some more politically oriented posters that would make sense. I was thinking the DisorderedReverberations (EC) ban seemed strange (especially compared to the other bans of similar duration, whose comments showed a lot more personal invectiveness; I’m still unclear what is the problem with the 2nd example as it seems a salient response to the argument in question which was expanded quite a bit further in the follow up comment), but he is a particularly prolific commentator in open threads on political issues and this election season seems likely to be contentious…

      • tg56 says:

        Though it makes sense from the political timeline, I suspect shorter more frequent bans would be much more effective in modulating behavior of the types who post very frequently and might be easier to mod. Don’t wait for a pattern or try weight up positive and negative contributions; just ban for 2 weeks or a month or something on any example of a comment that’s bad in it’s local context. If they are posting 10+ times an open thread they’ll notice it. Also suspect with shorter bans they’d be less likely to come back under another alias and instead actually take a step back for a bit (which is prob. healthy).

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Many of these bans are for behavior from several months ago.

          The ideal would be for Scott to do shorter and more frequent bans instead of letting things go. But running a website full of people who like to argue is hard work. Really, really hard work. Even if Scott didn’t have a really serious day job.

          So when I say “that’s the best way to run it” I also realize I would struggle (and likely fail) to run things even to this blog’s current level of moderation, much less to the standard that I encourage.

  25. Erusian says:

    I spend about 75% of my work day not needing to hear or talk to anyone. During this time, I listen to a variety of things (books, lectures, music, etc). This doesn’t slow down my work or distract me and I usually retain what was said at least as well as when I (for example) read a book. This means I have over a thousand hours a year to learn anything that involves passive listening. A thousand hours is a time block equivalent to attending a year of school without homework or the ability to ask questions. (And I could do some form of work or question asking in my off hours to supplement what I’ve learned by listening.)

    I fear I’m using that time suboptimally: how can I use it in a way that will lead to the most human flourishing (personally or generally)?

    • Lambert says:

      What kind of work do you do?
      I find it hard to do any work that involves much thinking (apart from manual stuff) while listening to the radio or a podcast.

      • Erusian says:

        Technology and consulting. I can do things like write code, send emails, prepare presentations, etc perfectly well while listening to the radio or a podcast. Really the only thing I can’t do are meetings or presentations but those take up a few hours a day at worst. I tracked it over the past couple of weeks (which saw no real change to my normal work routine) and I really am consuming about 6 hours a day of audio just at work.

        I’m aware I’m somewhat unique in this. Most other people tell me what you did: they can’t do it, it distracts them. But I can do both, for whatever reason. Though I’ve also never tried to listen to something about what I’m doing and tried to do it at the same time, which might be more distracting. (Ie, listening to a book about data analysis while doing data analysis.) Then again, I don’t know.

        • But I can do both

          This difference struck me in the contest of World of Warcraft, back when all of my family was playing. I find it hard to pay attention to more than one thing at a time, with the result that I often missed stuff happening in text when I was paying attention to combat. My daughter, as best I can tell, could pay attention to healing her group, pay attention to everything in text, and conduct a conversation with a friend at the same time.

          At a slight but not unrelated tangent, I concluded long ago that a major difference between me and Richard Epstein, who used to be a colleague, is that I reason in series and he reasons in parallel. He is making an argument for some conclusion. I point out a hole in that argument. He responds not by showing the hole isn’t there but by switching to another line of argument for the conclusion. As best I could tell, he is running several lines of argument in his head at once. I don’t do that.

          • Belisaurus Rex says:

            I do the parallel thing and it doesn’t work because most people want to feel smart about the first hole they poked and don’t move on.

          • Erusian says:

            While I like to think I don’t start from a conclusion and work my way back, I do think… asynchronously, I guess I’d call it? Like when I took exams I would work on a question until I hit a snag and then move on to the next question while still thinking about the previous one. Rinse and repeat. I usually got to the end of most tests in fifteen minutes and looped again.

            I still prefer to have multiple projects ongoing because that switching gears makes all of the processes work more efficiently. Again, I’m aware this is all abnormal (though, I think, not a problem per se).

          • Nick says:

            @Belisaurus Rex

            I do the parallel thing and it doesn’t work because most people want to feel smart about the first hole they poked and don’t move on.

            Or maybe they’d just like you to acknowledge it if your argument doesn’t work.

          • AG says:

            Going in parallel is a core competitive debate tactic, but you have to show your work on it. You have to establish a framework in which you only need one “successful” argument to win, and when you concede an argument to your opponent, you have to show how conceding the argument doesn’t disqualify your entire position.

          • Belisaurus Rex says:

            Disagree with needing to explain this beforehand, one successful explanation should suffice to explain whatever phenomenon in any context, no matter how many alternatives have failed. It might stop being persuasive, but that doesn’t make it incorrect.

            The order in which you make your arguments shouldn’t reflect the end result on what is correct or incorrect. What if I had just started with the ultimately successful argument? Then it doesn’t matter that the other party could bring up and poke holes in the others.

          • AG says:

            It matters because, well, you made the other non-successful argument. And with some of them, the way in which they are non-successful could have severe implications that outweigh your other arguments, if someone can prove that it’s foundational to your entire premise. That’s why you have to show that:
            1. The world in which the argument is conceded does not negatively influence the new argument you are pursuing (having consequences and implications that outweigh any benefit of the premise), or
            2. The implications and consequences of the argument you are now pursuing outweigh those of the argument you conceded.

            Essentially, you need to make a statement like “I concede A. But even if A were true, B.” Your opponent, meanwhile, will likely pursue “Because A is true, not-B,” and you have to address that. Interaction factors are real.

        • Lambert says:

          Do you subvocalise what you read in your head?

          I wonder whether it’s possible to learn this power by deliberately not doing the stuff involved with reading that conflicts with listening.

          • Erusian says:

            Not unless I’m writing something that’s meant to be heard. Like I didn’t hear this sentence I’m writing now.

            But if I were to write a poem… let’s see:
            The pale gold star of subtle spring alights,
            Beaches bereaved and canceled leisure flights.

            I heard that, and I heard the original words I wrote, and I heard the revisions. I was simultaneously thinking of tests to run to isolate an annoying CI pipeline problem and listening to the closing remarks of a conference that they put on Youtube.

            What I will say: one of the first things I noticed I could do while very young, that others could not, is listen to multiple conversations nearby while participating in one myself. Maybe trying to separate out multiple voices simultaneously would help? Maybe while reading or something?

      • Loriot says:

        I too find anything other than quiet instrumental music distracting. I could listen to lyrical music or podcasts if I really wanted to, but it would just be a matter of a) learning to tune out the podcasts or b) not getting real work done. The idea that someone could do mentally intensive work while also paying attention to a podcast is utterly alien to me, to the point I’m skeptical it’s actually happening. (I do accept that people might think they can multitask effectively, which is not the same thing).

        Heck, I sometimes even get distracted and tune out podcasts, TV, etc just by thinking about something unrelated.

        • noyann says:

          The idea that someone could do mentally intensive work while also paying attention to a podcast is utterly alien to me, to the point I’m skeptical it’s actually happening

          Maybe @Erusian is actually capable of time slicing with extremely low-loss context switching?

          Erusian, have you explored how the mechanism of your gift works?

          • Erusian says:

            Honestly, this is genuinely not where I thought this would go. I was just surprised at the amount of audio content I consumed and wanted to switch it from random stuff to something more self-improving.

            So, I can do things like separate out conversations and listen to multiple ones at once. But it’s more mental strain and the quality goes down as a result. What I can do effortlessly is take input from different senses for unrelated tasks simultaneously. So I can be listening to a lesson on a new language and even saying the words while simultaneously looking at a computer and typing something. I can briefly stop listening to the lesson or stop looking at the computer but that’s more like context switching. Which I can do, and in fact am more productive if I can do regularly.

            Notice that none of the senses are overlapping: I can do that but it’s not effortless. Also, I don’t know how many inputs I can take. I don’t think I’ve ever gone above two because you (as a human) really only have two inputs and two outputs for most common tasks.

            Apparently two of the key mental differences: Firstly, I do not “hear” words I read normally. And I can’t be alone in this, since being completely deaf isn’t an impediment to being able to read. Likewise, when I hear a word I don’t think of how it’s written. Apparently the linkage between the two is stronger in most people?

            Secondly, my mind tends to be thinking more than one thing simultaneously. In fact, chewing through multiple problems at the same time makes it better (or at least faster). I proved to myself in college that I answered three math questions, cycling between them, faster than if I did them three in a row. It’s so pronounced that if I have to do exactly one thing for work I’ll bring something else to switch into. But that’s more of a large preference for context switching.

            Honestly, I’ve never really explored it. I genuinely thought this was… well, maybe not normal, but well within common human experience.

          • Loriot says:

            I wonder if you would do better than average at the test with color words in the wrong color.

          • noyann says:

            Notice that none of the senses are overlapping [ … ] What I can do effortlessly is take input from different senses for unrelated tasks simultaneously.

            That matches an episode in Feynman’s biography (by J. Gleick) when Feynman and other students tried to permanently count in the mind while doing other things. They found that someone’s counting could be interfered with hearing (or speaking?) numbers, while others were susceptible to reading (writing?) numbers. They concluded that they used different parts of their brains for counting, ‘inner voice’ and ‘watching a graphical counter’ IIRC, and left it at that.

            Firstly, I do not “hear” words I read normally. [ … ] Apparently the linkage between the two is stronger in most people?

            A result of the strategies used to teach reading?
            It’s plausible that mouthing individual letters to recognize a word would form such a linkage. Maybe you skipped this phase or it was very short?

            Secondly, my mind tends to be thinking more than one thing simultaneously. In fact, chewing through multiple problems at the same time makes it better (or at least faster).

            That must be more than noninterfering separate input/output channels for each task. Unless, of course, the thinking itself has different demands — composing a poem vs. calculus, for example.

            But that cycling through problems of the same nature makes you think faster and better really puzzles me.

            The brain does some housekeeping during sleep, producing better results the next morning, and often it helps to do a Monty Python (“And now for something completely different…”) when stuck with a problem, or when learning. Maybe your brain is able to use background processing (for lack of a better word) more efficiently than most people?

            Honestly, I’ve never really explored it. I genuinely thought this was… well, maybe not normal, but well within common human experience.

            For the range of humans I met in real life, this is between rare and exotic. For the readership of this blog maybe not?

          • Loriot says:

            Before reading the post, I would have assumed that it was basically nonexistent/impossible, let alone exotic.

          • Erusian says:

            I wonder if you would do better than average at the test with color words in the wrong color.

            Found a random test online. It took me ~1.34 times longer to read the mismatched words and I had no errors to correct. A random study I found found an average of 2.59, with their best participant getting 1.7x. So it appears I do significantly outperform the average, in this very unscientific experiment. Anecdotally, once I had switched from reading words to colors it got very fast with only two or three hiccups. I wasn’t even reading the words.

            (I seriously make no claim to the absolute accuracy of these numbers: I just took a random test online and then googled a study for comparison.)

            That matches an episode in Feynman’s biography (by J. Gleick) when Feynman and other students tried to permanently count in the mind while doing other things. They found that someone’s counting could be interfered with hearing (or speaking?) numbers, while others were susceptible to reading (writing?) numbers. They concluded that they used different parts of their brains for counting, ‘inner voice’ and ‘watching a graphical counter’ IIRC, and left it at that.

            Never tried that, but it is absolutely possible to interrupt my thoughts. I can’t say I either hear or see the numbers. I kind of… feel them? Same with most words. I remember when I was a child I had very strong opinion about “good” and “bad” words and numbers related to how they felt. (Isn’t this why people say things are their favorite word? Or hate the word moist?)

            A result of the strategies used to teach reading? It’s plausible that mouthing individual letters to recognize a word would form such a linkage. Maybe you skipped this phase or it was very short?

            Highly possible. I wasn’t taught to sound out words, I was taught to associate words with pictures, shapes, objects, etc. I was taught to read by being given text or math problems and then being tested on comprehension. I remember a book that counted from 0 to 11 which was basically a number of objects (sticks, ducks, etc), the word (“two”) and the number (“2”).

            I remember my written and spoken vocabulary remaining fairly distinct until I was in my teens. I commonly wrote words I could not pronounce and said words I didn’t know how to write before that.

            That must be more than noninterfering separate input/output channels for each task. Unless, of course, the thinking itself has different demands — composing a poem vs. calculus, for example.

            But that cycling through problems of the same nature makes you think faster and better really puzzles me.

            The brain does some housekeeping during sleep, producing better results the next morning, and often it helps to do a Monty Python (“And now for something completely different…”) when stuck with a problem, or when learning. Maybe your brain is able to use background processing (for lack of a better word) more efficiently than most people?

            Maybe. It makes sense. A question: When you’re keeping something in the back of your mind, are you aware of it? Because I’m aware of these processes and can usually bring them to the forefront if I need to focus on them. (Though not always: some are entirely unasked for or force their way to the front or hidden until they pop.)

            I imagined this was how everyone was. I mean, that’s what Eureka moments are: the guy is vaguely aware of a problem and kind of passively thinking about it and then suddenly the process spits out an answer. Isn’t it?

          • Loriot says:

            Obviously it’s difficult to compare subjective experiences, but that does not sound like how I would describe my own experience at all. It’s hard to tell with confidence, but as far as I know, my “eureka moments” only happen when I am consciously thinking about a problem. Although often they come when looking at a problem from a perspective I hadn’t previously considered.

          • noyann says:

            A question: When you’re keeping something in the back of your mind, are you aware of it? Because I’m aware of these processes and can usually bring them to the forefront if I need to focus on them.

            Putting things actively on a backburner and popping them up again does not work for me. What I don’t want to forget I have to write down. Sometimes even the steps into deeper details of a problem, and getting out from there entails a backtracing and reorienting moment; “Now… where was I?” But my mind has some psychiatric issues and is not representative. I can’t consciously push and pop a mental stack.

            Often ‘forgotten’ things come up again with ideas for a slight improvement[*], sometimes in the same waking period, but the bigger jumps in quality usually come after one or more night’s sleep(s).

            [*] with luck even during an edit window 🙂

            I mean, that’s what Eureka moments are: the guy is vaguely aware of a problem and kind of passively thinking about it and then suddenly the process spits out an answer. Isn’t it?

            Agreed, except for the ‘vaguely aware’ part. For me, it the specific issue can be totally out of awareness right before it pops, but a general aimless mulling around in that problem domain usually took place in the time before the pop.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Learn languages?

      • Erusian says:

        I’ve thought about that! I already speak a couple but I could go for being a complete polyglot.

        That said, in a practical sense, I speak English and Spanish and can get by in Portuguese. I’m American, so that’s 91.3% of anyone I’m going to meet without crossing a big ocean.

        What would be a useful language?

    • Rock Lobster says:

      I’ve been doing a person project of systematically listening to classical music, basically following the repertoire from the book Language of the Spirit (which I’m enjoying). I put it all into Spotify playlists that look like they’ll shape up to be ~250 hours (but that’s including some long operas/oratorios that could be skipped if you want).

      • Erusian says:

        I’d be happy to take a listen. I’m actually a classically trained baritone and pianist, so music is definitely relevant to my interests.

    • georgeherold says:

      I wonder what is going on in your brain when you read something? When I read something (simple) I have a conversation in my brain. The words turn to sounds that I understand. So reading something uses the same part of my brain that reading something does, and I can only do one at a time.

      • Erusian says:

        I only hear poetry or music I’m composing as if it’s being heard. Or if I’m transcribing something I heard, now that I think of it. And, of course, I can stop and force myself to hear something that way. Otherwise, I have no auditory sense of the words I read. I do read them, understand them, comprehend them, but I don’t “hear” them. (Side note: I do have trouble remembering exact wording with prose, but not with songs or poetry. Something I’ve never noticed until now.)

        • Nick says:

          (Side note: I do have trouble remembering exact wording with prose, but not with songs or poetry. Something I’ve never noticed until now.)

          Isn’t that most folks? Introducing structure into text, like meter or rhyme, aids memory a lot.

          • Erusian says: