SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 153.5

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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

910 Responses to Open Thread 153.5

  1. theodidactus says:

    If anyone is still following this, A LOT of what we talked about here is discussed on the latest episode of All the President’s Lawyers, including “why not charge on the Gulen issues” and “is there a predication requirement” and so on.

    https://www.kcrw.com/news/shows/lrc-presents-all-the-presidents-lawyers/dropping-the-charges-against-michael-flynn

    • Controls Freak says:

      Stream of consciousness of things they’re missing because they’re not thinking like a rightist.

      -They broadly compare the use of 1001 to general use against the public. The guest even says, “Yes, I think there are problems with general use against the public,” but focuses more on, “I bet the gov’t won’t take this approach in any other case.” Well, unfortunately, that runs pretty hard into the principles they used for applying 1001 in other high profile cases. It reeks of, “Rules for thee, but not for me.”

      -They buy McCord’s argument that there is predication due to “Flynn lying publicly” and waving toward possible blackmail, but that’s not actually what they have evidence for. It’s known that VPOTUS said something that was not true; it is assumed that Flynn lied to VPOTUS and VPOTUS was repeating that lie. Fact is, politicians lie to the public. I don’t like it, but we don’t ever treat those things like grounds for prosecution. It is entirely plausible that Flynn told VPOTUS the truth, and the two of them got together and said, “Here’s the story we’re going to roll with in public, because of political reasons.” I don’t like it, but I know that all politicians on both sides almost certainly do these things sometimes, and I don’t want the FBI basing barely-credibly, seemingly politically-motivated prosecutions on this type of thing. The time had long passed for them to provide defensive briefings to the WH and wash their hands of it – and many many officials have been on record saying that such a thing would have been the normal course of events in any other administration. On top of that, there’s still a gap (thanks Conrad for pointing this out). After Jan 4 (when they were going to close the investigation, but learned of his conversation with Kislyak), it was almost two weeks before VPOTUS publicly stated the falsehood. I don’t think anyone has put forth a worthwhile rationale (stipulating that Logan Act don’t count) for why that conversation was evidence in their investigation that he was an agent of the Russian government.

      -Unlike some on r/law, I have little problems with amicus briefs. I know they’re not a party to the case, but I understand how non-party equities can sometimes be important. That said, the guest’s spin on this is that the judge is using this as an opportunity to get at the motives of the gov’t behind this filing. It smacks of, “When I do something, we appeal to the idealized principles and most minimal requirements for what I’m allowed to do, but when my opponents do something, it has to be pretext for bad motivations and we can’t let bad motivations stand.” This is why there was a lot of haranguing about this in the immigration EO SCOTUS case – you can’t have the public perception be that some politicians aren’t allowed to do the same things that any other politician can do because we think they’re a bad person doing things for bad reasons in their heart. Nobody is ever going to seriously suggest that anyone should use their power to look into possible bad motivations behind any previous filing against Flynn.

      -They sort of skip over the “why wasn’t this charged”. Didn’t give even a moment to, “Why wasn’t the nonprosection agreement specifically-stated, as is required?” If that was indeed part of the deal, then it needs to be part of the public record. (They later discuss how future governments may wiggle out, broaden the scope, and prosecute directly on FARA even if this is dismissed with prejudice. It reeks of the fact that they didn’t do this one properly. And in any event, I don’t think they said anything about kidnapping at all (which was subject to prior discussion here); just an op-ed saying that he (the Turkish gov’t) thought it was good policy to extradite the guy. I think that’s about right for credibility on the kidnapping accusations – not even mentioned.

      -Concerning the entire Trump/Russia thing, I was always of the standpoint, “There are some potentially problematic things here, and they could even be really bad, but it’s also possible that everyone comes out okay and some things just sound bad.” Turns out the latter was true. But it’s the small things when you realize that people still can’t acknowledge that. Like where he says that Flynn’s cooperation didn’t give them Trump in the way they were hoping for – he insinuates that if only Flynn had really cooperated, Trump would surely be finished this time. When the reality is probably that the dude cooperated and gave up what he had… but there just wasn’t anything there. (I just hit play again after writing this, and it’s comical to hear him go on to say that prosecutors need to be careful to avoid seeming like they’re trying to coerce specific testimony against a specific person, but it never quite hits his brain that maybe that really was what was going on and that Flynn just didn’t actually have the goods on Trump.)

  2. Aotho says:

    Some (most? all?) bayesians seem to be content with defining 50% for a prediction of a binary proposition as “the evidence is equally strong either way”, however, this never quite sat well with me.

    If you insist on such a definition, how do you deal with a distinction where you need to make 2 sets of 100 binary predictions in the following way?

    In the first set you are indeed unsure about any event happening, they are all independent from each other, but you are sure all events have equal chances of occurring versus not, and so about 50 will happen while 50 won’t. Therefore it’s very unlikely that you’d see far deviation from this. For instance with a truly fair coin, you’d be very surprised if all 100 came back tails, and you would find this very hard to believe.

    While in the second set you have even less information and knowledge, you cannot say that about 50 will happen and about 50 won’t; it is very well possible that all 100 will happen or all 100 won’t; none of those outcomes would be surprising.

    Further background can be read here and here. While I am waiting for my hitherto interlocutor to respond to this, I’d also like to attempt to court the wider community (you!) for an answer to this question.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      In those situations you absolutely want to assign the same probabilities to each individual event; the difference is in the joint probability distributions.

      If I want to communicate fully my predictions about a future containing two possible events A,B, it is not sufficient to define P(A) and P(B) (and by implication P(~A) and P(~B)); instead, I need to specify P(A&B), P(A&~B), P(~A&B) and P(~A&~B)

      If A and B are independent, then I know that P(A&B) = P(A)P(B), etc, and so all I need to is define P(A) and P(B), and we can work out the joint probabilities from them. But if not, that won’t be possible; all I can say about P(A&B) is that

      P(A) + P(B) – 1 <= P(A&B) <= min(P(A),P(B))

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_probability_distribution is a wikipedia page that goes into this in more detail.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      I’m not really a bayesian, but isn’t that what the joint probability distribution is for?

      If you have a set of 100 binary outcomes, any possible prior can be encoded as a set of weights over 2^100 entries (one for each possible combination of outcomes).

      Assigning the same weight to each outcome gives each possible outcome a 1/2^100 chance. This model finds “all true” surprising to the exact same level it finds “First half all true, second half all false”, “evens true, odds false”, “primes true, composites false” or indeed any other possible combination, surprising. Yet if you ask it to give you the probability of “k true, 100 – k false” regardless of which specific events were true or false, you’ll get (n choose k)/2^100 as the probability. This means the uniform probability encodes a belief in independence (kind of, see below).

      At the other extreme, a belief the events are perfectly correlated would assign 50% to all true, 50% to all false, and 0 to everything else.

      To get your “it is very well possible that all 100 will happen or all 100 won’t; none of those outcomes would be surprising”, you need to weight the events in a particular way. You end up giving “all true” a weight equivalent to all the possible “50 out of 100 are true” events (easiest way is to scale each event by 1/(n choose k), then renormalize).

      This is feasible and it still gives each individual event a 50% chance of happening, but is it truly “less information” than the previous prior? I’d say no, because this model actually rules out anti-correlation. It evenly assigns probabilities over the range “perfectly independent” to “perfectly correlated”, but that leave the other half (“perfectly independent” to “perfectly anti-correlated”). So you’ve ruled out a lot of possible arrangements.

      That is, the probability mass for “evens all true, odds all false” only is a little bit due to “these are all independent events”, a lot of it comes from “odd-numbered events are just the negation of the even event right before them”, “All events in the same mod 4 equivalence class have the same outcome” and a gazillion other weird possibilities.

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        As a followup, doesn’t that mean that “these events are, for sure, independent” and “these events may or may not be correlated or anti correlated in arbitrary ways” result in the same joint probability distribution?

        As far as I can tell, yes? The only way to get these two to start making different predictions is to assume we’ll run the 100 events, then run them again, and ask for a joint distribution for all 200. The “definitely independent” model updates only the base probability of each event, while the “maybe there’s a correlation” model treats the outcomes as evidence for certain kinds of correlation, and against others, which means they no longer cancel out perfectly.

    • A1987dM says:

      Some (most? all?) bayesians seem to be content with defining 50% for a prediction of a binary proposition as “the evidence is equally strong either way”, however, this never quite sat well with me.

      No they don’t. Evidence equally strong either way results in a 50% posterior probability only if the prior probability was already 50%.

  3. Deiseach says:

    Following up on some discussion about this, an article about progressive politics and the Religious Left, in the form of a review of a new book.

    And in further “I’m bored because I haven’t been forwarded the files to work on yet” news, I hope you will all be appropriately sensitive in future when referring to persons engaged in adulterous liaisons. Luckily, the Associated Press stylebook has the guidance you need!

    APStylebook
    @APStylebook

    May 8
    We now say not to use the archaic and sexist term “mistress” for a woman in a long-term sexual relationship with, and financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else.

    Instead, use an alternative like companion or lover on first reference. Provide details later.

    Yes, let’s not offend the delicacy of adulterers. That would be so bad and not nice!

    • Nick says:

      I love that it was called “archaic.” Of course we don’t use the word mistress too often anymore. But it’s not as though we call them companions, either. The former has not been replaced in common parlance; it’s just off limits now.

      • matkoniecz says:

        “companion” sounds to me as an archaic euphemism.

        BTW, is “financially supported by” actually required part for term “mistress”? I am not a native speaker and I always though that “has long-term sexual relationship with a man who is married to someone else” is the defining part.

        • edmundgennings says:

          I am with matkoniecz, financial support might be present in a decent number of cases but is certainly not essential.

          • Deiseach says:

            My cynical take on this is that the new approved terms are meant to be used when talking about women involved with politicians, celebrities or other people who are influential/rich/powerful.

            If you’re writing a kiss’n’tell story about Horrible Other Side Politician who cheated on his wife, you may want to present the mistress in a sympathetic light as she is your source for all the juicy scandal. So she was his “lover” or “companion”, which makes it sound like “I was just an ordinary girl swept off my feet by this powerful man whom I fell in love with, it was just my bad luck the dirty cheating rat was married”. You don’t want to introduce any notion of “ex-mistress trying to squeeze more money out of the affair by pressuring the guy to pay up more and if he won’t, getting the cash by selling the story”, as that would make your version of the story less sympathetic.

            If you don’t want to offend Particular Rich/Powerful Guy, you may also want to be discreet about referring to the ex-mistress; calling her his “lover” makes it sound more romantic – two hearts that beat as one, star-crossed, brought low by Cupid’s arrow! The Francesca da Rimini gambit, as it were. (Which I am not sympathetic to; yes you may genuinely have fallen in love, yes it’s tough, but he’s married and this is wrong).

            Saying “Bob Famousguy had a string of mistresses” or “Susy Slapper was the mistress of Bob during his third marriage” is a bit too coldly factual about the lust and avarice involved – so judgemental!

          • Randy M says:

            you may want to present the mistress in a sympathetic light as she is your source for all the juicy scandal.

            So, homewrecker is out, huh?

          • John Schilling says:

            So, homewrecker is out, huh?

            A proper mistress is I believe expected to take care not to wreck homes.

            And, I agree that the term as colloquially used does imply a financial asymmetry to the mistress’s benefit.

        • I think financially supported is suggested by the term, but not strictly implied. “Kept mistress” would make it explicit.

          If the woman is supporting herself, “lover” would seem the more natural term.

          • Deiseach says:

            If the woman is supporting herself, “lover” would seem the more natural term.

            Yes, but “lover” is softening the situation, Alice and Bob could be lovers without either Alice or Bob being married to anyone else. I agree that “mistress” does not necessarily involve financial transactions, but there is the element of “he pays the rent for your accommodation/he buys you expensive gifts” – isn’t one of the things that sparks suspicions of an affair that Husband is buying gifts/there are unusual expenditure patterns that don’t relate to Wife and can’t be otherwise explained? (e.g. “oh that jeweller’s receipt for a bracelet? a birthday present for my sister Anne” and you see Anne wearing the bracelet).

            Some of the nose-in-the-air fingerwagging about the term being “sexist” amuses me, as there are indeed terms for men in similar situations. Granted, we may not refer to a man as someone’s “master” (well, unless it’s one of those kinds of relationships) but there are terms for the men having the mistress from “fancy man, gallant” to “philanderer”, and terms for the men who are “in a long-term sexual relationship with, and financially supported by, a woman who is married to someone else” from “kept man, cicisbeo, cavalier servente, gigolo” to the modern “sugar baby” (admirably non-sexist as they may be equally kept by a sugar daddy or sugar momma).

        • albatross11 says:

          I am a native speaker, and that’s my understanding, too. If Alice is Bob’s mistress, it means Alice and Bob are sleeping together despite Bob being married to Carol. The usual assumption is that when Carol finds out about this, she and Bob will soon be divorced.

          ETA: I don’t think there’s an implied financial relationship there. That *could* exist but I wouldn’t assume it from hearing the word.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That *could* exist but I wouldn’t assume it from hearing the word.

            I think it’s more like:

            Girlfriend/lover: not in a financial relationship.

            Mistress: probably but not definitely in a financial relationship.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I think “mistress” implies a certain level of commitment or obligation that is less than one owes to a wife, but more than one owes to a girlfriend/lover. This may be financial or it may not be, but it implies that whatever the arrangement is, both parties expect it to continue indefinitely, and would be (justifiably) upset if the other just suddenly ghosted them.

            What might happen when the wife finds out seems highly dependent upon the culture. IIRC the main driving force behind the plot of Anna Karenina was something like “Everyone understands that every self-respecting upper-class Russian man will have a mistress, but he’s expected to keep it hidden so as to not embarrass the wife.”

          • I don’t think there is an implication of adultery — a bachelor could have a mistress.

          • Randy M says:

            @David Really? Can you show a source that uses it that way? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it so. In that case it’s a girlfriend or a fling or a friend with benefits or something like that.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wikipedia’s list of royal mistresses includes Wallis Simpson. And a google for “Justinian’s mistress” comes up with bignum references to the future Empress Theodora.

            At less elevated levels, it’s going to be harder to come up with citations, but I think the general sense is (as Conrad Honcho says) that an attractive younger woman with no visible means of support and in a long-term relationship with a wealthy older man is going to be referred to as a “mistress” rather than a girlfriend.

          • Randy M says:

            Alright, thanks. It makes sense to have such a word in a noble/royal context where the relationship can be acknowledged but is clearly not going to lead to marriage for social or political reasons.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I believe the proper term there is “concubine.”

          • John Schilling says:

            I believe the proper term there is “concubine.”

            Concubinage is a formally recognized relationship in a narrow set of societies and circumstances where such relationships are formally recognized. It never really caught on for the type of relationships that are not officially recognized, should ideally be tactfully ignored but since we sometimes have to talk about them we have “mistress”.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The AP is doing their part to make Firefly real.

      • Deiseach says:

        But it’s not as though we call them companions, either.

        Maybe we should go back to the Greek – hetairai. If we’re going to be calling them “companions”, that is. Perhaps whoever is updating the AP stylebook is a fan of Firefly?

        • Matt M says:

          I feel like while Firefly went to great lengths to insist that it’s prostitutes were classy and normal and high-status, the “companion” was still closer to being a streetwalker than to being a mistress.

          The one we know seems pretty high status compared to other companions, but she’s still traveling around the galaxy and bedding new men on a weekly basis. Nobody seems to have much of a long-term claim to her, erm, services, as such…

          • Randy M says:

            I rewatched the series recently, still holds up really well. On this point I think you are right. Inara makes a big deal about how with companions, they are the to choose, which separates her from the literal sex slaves but not necessarily from all prostitutes.

          • John Schilling says:

            I believe Inara was as atypically adventurous for a Companion as e.g. Shepard Book was for a monk, so I don’t think we can draw a strong conclusion from her case.

            In particular, note that flying to a different planet to take new clients every week, is not a thing that any prostitute needs to do to make a living any more than their contemporary counterparts need to fly to a different city every week. The ones who do, are either doing it for its own sake or are so close to the apex of their profession that there are only a handful of potential clients in their league per planet or city.

            Inara can show up on a random planet with maybe a week’s notice, and secure engagements with local VIPs. That’s several steps removed from being a streetwalker.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. I don’t mean to imply that she has the status of a streetwalker. But I don’t think what she does maps to a conventional “mistress” by any stretch of the imagination.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is, nonetheless, possible that most Companions have long-term arrangements that more closely map to the general concept of a “mistress”. We simply don’t know, because we don’t see any other active Companions.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I think there is an obvious and significant difference-in-distribution between religious right-wingers and religious left-wingers:

      Right-wing religious thought is more likely to boil down to “God says we should do X; therefore X is good; therefore we should do X”

      Left-wing religious thought is more likely to boil down to “God says we should do good; X is good; therefore we should do X”

      When religion inspires right-wing politics it’s often providing both motivation and direction; when it inspires left-wing politics it’s usually only providing motivation. There are more cases where right-wingers cite a passage in scripture that could not also be interpreted to support left-wing positions than vice versa.

      I think this is why the presence of religion is more obvious in right-wing than left-wing politics, even if the left-wingers are no less devout.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Is is possible to tease out an “essence of left/right” that endures through the ages, such that we could place Biblical characters on the spectrum? I’d like to, but I’m not sure how, and I feel like it’s too uncharitable to the left to say that they are definitionally the ones who take their cues from the broader culture/world instead of God.

        Jeremiah, for example, strikes me as the ancient equivalent of a performance artist, which would be coded left-wing. Teresa of Avila would probably be waylaid into some sort of BDSM group in the modern era, again a left thing.

        • Deiseach says:

          Teresa of Avila would probably be waylaid into some sort of BDSM group in the modern era

          ??? 🤨

          I fear you may be getting your Teresas and Thereses mixed up, if you don’t mean Catherine 🙂

          I would appreciate some development of this statement!

          • Jaskologist says:

            Ecstasy of St Teresa

            I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

        • SamChevre says:

          I think it doesn’t map well to left/right, but there’s an important distinction between the strands of revealed religion that looks for themes (natural law/Thomist, theologically rigorous Reformed) and those that look carefully at the details of what’s commanded (Orthodox Judaism, most Anabaptist groups). I wouldn’t describe the first as “taking it’s cues from the culture vs God”, but the second group often does so describe it.

      • albatross11 says:

        In this model, Jesus was a radical left-wing figure.

        • Deiseach says:

          In this model, Jesus was a radical left-wing figure.

          And David and Jonathan were gay lovers, and Naomi and Ruth were lesbians. I read the news today, oh boy.

          • albatross11 says:

            A lot of Jesus’ teachings seem to have been exactly along the lines of “do good because God says so” rather than “follow the rules because God says so.”

          • GearRatio says:

            @albatross11

            A lot of Jesus’ teachings seem to have been exactly along the lines of “do good because God says so” rather than “follow the rules because God says so.”

            For a lot of believers, this doesn’t parse as well as it could. Imagine this conversation:

            Jane: So I should follow the rules because they are good?

            Bob, the experienced believer: No, you misunderstand; the rules aren’t good, they are just arbitrary bullshit God made up for funzies. But we still follow them.

            Bob and Jane aren’t having a typical conversation most Christians would have. Bob’s view that the rules are just arbitrary bullshit he has to follow and nothing else would be out of place to most; it might exist as a fringe view, but it’s more typical of people who are rejecting the rules outright.

            Another conversation:

            Jane: Do we follow the rules because they are commands of God, or because they are good?

            Bob: Both. We’d be obligated to follow them even if they were bad, but the commands of God are good and do good.

            This Bob’s view is not universal, but drastically more common than “I follow rules because rules exist and for no other reason.”.

            One thing we can do to try and parse Jesus’ teaching on rules is to look at instances when he ran into rules and rule-breakers, of which there are a few.

            John 8: Jesus is approached by a crowd that has captured an adultress; she was caught red-handed and her guilt isn’t contested by any person present. The group is religious in nature and attempting to draw Jesus into a theological trap.

            4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

            6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

            9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

            11 “No, Lord,” she said.

            And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

            So, parsing it down, Jesus questions the “rightness” of a crowd of sinners brutally judging another sinner. They, guilty, withdraw. He then doesn’t declare the sin not a sin or the rule invalid; he forgives, but tells her to stop breaking rules.

            Matthew 12 and Mark 2, where Jesus is trying to eat and people are bothering him about that:

            At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

            23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

            Another group stops Jesus when he’s trying to eat on Sabbath; he points out that there are exceptions to the rules – priests can and need to work on the Sabbath and necessity, and David once took holy bread from a temple in a time of necessity with the blessing of the priest there. In the David instance, it was necessary that his men fulfill certain conditions for it to be right(temporary abstinence from sex/contact with women), something that would have been known to Jesus’ questioners and emphasizes that this is more complex than “This rule is about suffering and you aren’t suffering enough”.

            Mark 2 has another element – This particular rule was supposed to serve people, not hurt them, and he’s in charge of it anyway. Again, he’s questioning the application of the rule, and not the rule itself.

            So here Jesus says “Yes, there are rules, but the rules have exceptions” and “This is a good rule that helps people, but you are enforcing it in a way that makes it hurt people”. He doesn’t invalidate the rules or say they shouldn’t be followed.

            Matthew 7:

            3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

            7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

            12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

            13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

            Here, in a chapter mostly about rule-following and law, Jesus mentions at length that God isn’t going to give you bad stuff to hurt you, but instead gives you good stuff to nourish you.

            Another criticism of application of the rules then occurs; why are we focusing on other’s sins when we have sin ourselves? Note that this doesn’t say that planks OR specks are alright and fine; both are supposed to be removed from eyes if present. It’s just that you should focus on your own first; Jesus would rather you make yourself pious as opposed to enforcing piousness on others. But this is still a demand for individual piety.

            Later in the same chapter, Jesus says that being nice IS the law, and that the rules ARE nice – that’s the golden rule; if you are truly walking around trying to maximize everybody like you would for yourself, you are going to follow the law on accident if nothing else.

            Then, somewhat converse to the “take it easy and just be nice and it will all work out” stance that ignores the harshness “being nice is the law and the law is being nice” relationship he then immediately warns that this is hard, and most people will fail at it.

            Matthew 19:

            3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

            4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

            7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

            8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

            10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

            11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.

            Here Jesus encounters a rule, says that it’s wrong in that it isn’t harsh enough; his own disciples say “Hey, Jesus, isn’t this rule too harsh the way you want it?” and he says “If you can’t get married and stay married, then don’t have sex for your entire life.”

            Shortish Summary

            Most of the time when Jesus interacts with a rule, he doesn’t question the validity of the rule, but he often questions how it’s enforced. Most often he points out that either the spirit of the rule is being ignored for excessive legalism, or that the people who are enforcing the rules like to do so to others while ignoring their own sin.

            His foil in most of these situations are the Pharisees, who are letter-of-the-law correct to a fault, but also possess the spirit of gigantic assholes.

            In this context, it makes a lot of sense for Jesus to take a stance of “The rules exist, but you lack the loving spirit necessary for them to be helpful; you’ve turned the nice, helpful rules into a harsh legalism I dislike and that you should stop”.

            It’s an oversimplification for someone to say “these laws are important – I will harshly force others to follow them; me being the enforcer means I’m good, right?”. But I think it’s also a mistake to take Jesus pointing this out as him saying “Just be nice, y’all – rules are dumb!” if most or all of the examples of him interacting with rules show him questioning application instead of content.

          • albatross11 says:

            I am certainly no theologian, but it seems to me that a lot of Jesus’ teachings, also echoed in a lot of what the early church did, were recognizing places where the rules/laws/etc. were getting in the way of doing good (as defined by “love God and love your neighbor”, I think) rather than their intended goal of helping you do good.

            This makes sense in the context of the idea that the rules are supposed be be helping you do the right thing. Divorce, especially in Jesus’ day, was legally permitted but I think was also a pretty awful way to treat your wife–potentially leaving her in a really bad position unless she had family who would take her in. So Jesus updated the law there to guide people toward doing the right thing. Adultery is bad but so is stoning people to death, so Jesus put a stop to the stoning while still telling the woman to knock it off with the adultery.

            Jesus also spent a lot of time interacting with people who’d been shunned from the rest of society–the woman at the well, lepers, Samaritans[1], tax collectors, etc. That didn’t mean he condoned everything they’d done, but it did mean he broke a social rule (shunning people for not following the laws in some way) where the rule was doing harm and making people worse instead of better. Part of this was making it clear that some things weren’t anyone’s fault (lepers and people born with various disabilities weren’t the result of someone’s sin and so shouldn’t be treated as such), but other parts were accepting the possibility of someone genuinely repenting (the tax collector promising to give half his wealth away and to pay back anyone he’s cheated fourfold).

            This also makes sense in light of the fact that basically all branches of Christianity have gotten rid of a huge amount of Jewish law, and instead we have our own rules, somewhat different by denomination, but more-or-less never requiring circumcision, refraining from eating pork, etc. Those laws weren’t appropriate for helping us be good anymore, but different laws and rules and guidance can help us do the right thing, and become better people, and do what God wants us to do. (Which I think are all at least pointed in the same same basic direction.)

            [1] I think the Samaritans didn’t much like the main line of Jews either.

          • GearRatio says:

            it seems to me that a lot of Jesus’ teachings, also echoed in a lot of what the early church did, were recognizing places where the rules/laws/etc. were getting in the way of doing good (as defined by “love God and love your neighbor”, I think) rather than their intended goal of helping you do good.

            That’s why I pulled up all the examples I did – they contradict a literal read what you just said. In the applicable portion of them, he criticizes the application of the rules, but not the rules themselves. So he doesn’t say “The sabbath rules are bad, and gone now” he says “You are using the rule incorrectly”. This is a big distinction.

            This makes sense in the context of the idea that the rules are supposed be be helping you do the right thing. Divorce, especially in Jesus’ day, was legally permitted but I think was also a pretty awful way to treat your wife–potentially leaving her in a really bad position unless she had family who would take her in. So Jesus updated the law there to guide people toward doing the right thing. Adultery is bad but so is stoning people to death, so Jesus put a stop to the stoning while still telling the woman to knock it off with the adultery.

            More or less agreed, with the exception that stoning people isn’t definitively banned by this passage – Jesus definitely had mercy and offered grace here, but I don’t see anything that carries the weight of “capital punishment is now not a thing”.

            Jesus also spent a lot of time interacting with people who’d been shunned from the rest of society–the woman at the well, lepers, Samaritans[1], tax collectors, etc. That didn’t mean he condoned everything they’d done, but it did mean he broke a social rule

            Social rules are distinct from scriptural rules – All this example does in furtherance of “Jesus isn’t a rules guy” arguments is show that he doesn’t agree with absolutely every rule from any source whatsoever.

            This would be more applicable if Jesus were to, say, dishonestly collect taxes or partake in prostitution – those would be actually breaking rules. The latter would make the prostitute feel even more accepted, but we don’t find he does this.

            Part of this was making it clear that some things weren’t anyone’s fault (lepers and people born with various disabilities weren’t the result of someone’s sin and so shouldn’t be treated as such)

            This is a good example of why it’s important to cross-reference why and how this would have been biblically significant. In this case, there’s absolutely no rule against Jesus touching this guy.

            The relevant section here is Leviticus 13; it contains the regulations about skin diseases. In it, a priest(important) examines the person with the disease and uses a number of guidelines to declare them clean/unclean. If they are unclean(by their standards, likely to be contagious) they are segregated until they are cleansed(healed), at which point they are welcomed back. Note that this is a rule about where people with a confirmed sickness can live and how they have to act; there’s no rule against the non-sick touching them, particularly for people in a priestly role.

            What Jesus is doing here is not declaring lepers to be clean – there’s no indication he’s going “Guys, let the people with infectious skin diseases that might devastate your community back in – it’s fine! Love!”. What he does do is cleanse the person of their uncleanliness and welcome them back into the fold.

            This is not an example of Jesus invalidating a rule; this is an example of him removing a person from the applicable group to whom the rule applies through supernatural healing, which is sort of his thing. It’s not accepting leprosy but instead defeating it to clean and redeem a human.

            I bring this up because it’s important – if we are going “Jesus isn’t a rules guy” then we need examples where he disapproves of a rule, not where he disapproves of the rule’s enforcement or defeats a disease to remove someone from the rule’s territory.

            but other parts were accepting the possibility of someone genuinely repenting (the tax collector promising to give half his wealth away and to pay back anyone he’s cheated fourfold).

            I agree with this.

            This also makes sense in light of the fact that basically all branches of Christianity have gotten rid of a huge amount of Jewish law, and instead we have our own rules, somewhat different by denomination, but more-or-less never requiring circumcision, refraining from eating pork, etc. Those laws weren’t appropriate for helping us be good anymore, but different laws and rules and guidance can help us do the right thing, and become better people, and do what God wants us to do. (Which I think are all at least pointed in the same same basic direction.)

            This is IMO the most valid argument here, because it definitely gets into some fuzzy stuff on which there’s a fair amount of disagreement. I’m going to spend too much time on this because I think it’s necessary.

            I think the bolded bit in the quote above makes a big assumption that needs to be justified, I.E. that these sects got rid of these rules themselves, unilaterally, because they weren’t useful anymore. This is important because if the churches got rid of the rules themselves in contradiction to what Jesus said, that doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus; it just tells us the churches were disobedient.

            If Jesus appeared to be a rules guy and the churches can go “Well, yes, the entirety of the old testament and Jesus are very concerned with rules but we aren’t, because they are inconvenient to us in some way, or there seems to us to be a better way”, then they could also use the same rationale to neutralize any concept in the Bible entirely.

            Now, there’s sects of Christianity who actually do believe this, although they’d phrase it differently. But there are a lot that don’t, and it’s important to look at why.

            For lots and lots of Christians, they are drawing from abrogation theology or dispensation theology. A super short version of this is they are drawing from a few references (Hebrews 8, Jeremiah 31) that the old covenant with Moses (which is the foundation for the law, for the most part) has been replaced by the law as remains in the new testament. They look for rules that have been “renewed” in the new testament as their new laws.

            So that’creates another group, those that think they aren’t bound to old testament law, but who think that this is because the rules were changed for them, rather than them simply ditching rules they didn’t like/knew better than.

            This brings up two gotchas:

            If we are under a new covenant based on grace, why should I buy this “renewal” of laws? Say I want to commit adultery; if the new covenant started with Jesus’ death and I don’t buy that the new testament renews those sins, I can now commit adultery pretty safely so long as I judge that it’s a net benefit kind of situation.

            This first doesn’t work particularly well, since the source of the “New Covenant means the old law is dead” is Paul in Hebrews, but he’s also the source of most of the law renewals. If you are rejecting Paul’s ability to accurately relate God’s thoughts on things, then you lose most of the renewed laws, but you also lose the foundation for a grace-based new covenant relaxation of the rules.

            Once you reject the new covenant, you are left with Jesus’ words in red from before the new covenant was supposed to begin, and as I pointed out, where he encounters a scriptural rule he either leaves it alone, makes it more strict, or only complains about third-party enforcement methods/motivations.

            This leaves you with a biblical message where your individual obligations are with very few disputed exceptions consistent with Old Testament law.

            What if I just reject the new covenant replacing some/all old laws?

            You can do this as well, but as above, what you are left with is an abbreviated bible that leaves you under the old covenant, with a few possible exceptions for very specific things(circumcision, prohibited foods).

            Shorter Summary of the long new covenant bits:

            “We ditched these rules ourselves because they are dumb or not useful” doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus, just about those who ditched the rules. Jesus remains pretty consistent on the rules being important.

            “Those rules were ditched for us, new covenant” has better legs, but is reliant on the reliability of Paul, who still holds a lot of things to be sinful and avoided; that leaves you with a new set of rules, but still a set of rules. Adultery and homosexuality would still be sins an individual was obligated to avoid, for instance.

        • Jaskologist says:

          If the speaker is God, those two statements would be identical, making Jesus the platonic ideal of a moderate.

    • S_J says:

      That article about the religious left does ring true for me.

      I have a few old friends who fit that category. They have the outspoken religious zeal of a true believer, and passionately believe that the progressive cause is God’s work.

      My personal interpretation is that the secular-progressives of the world don’t notice the religious zeal of some of their supporters; it might be that they don’t interpret it as ‘religious zeal’.

      Possibly because they are blind to the way in which secular progressivism, as a movement, has the goal of of Saving the Lost Awakening People to the problems of various minorities in this fallen world. After coming into Communion, being Born Again, becoming Woke, the progressives obviously need to repent of their individual role in perpetuating the problem, and then preach a new gospel to the unbelievers who haven’t been converted become Woke.

    • ana53294 says:

      Mistress is also a term for a rich single man’s kept lover. At least that’s how the likes of Barbara Cartland use this word. Maybe it’s an old-fashioned use?

  4. scottfree43 says:

    Covid-19 confusion – I often read that people who die from Covid-19 are commonly comorbid with hypertension. These statements, while probably true, seem misleading to me.

    The word comorbid has a medical definition that means a patient has two conditions needing treatment at the same time and does not imply any causation. I don’t believe that is the way most non-professionals understand it. The “morbid” in there is frightening and stories in the media often imply the presence of hypertension causes a higher risk of covid-related death. Virtually never is hypertension define in the media. According to the American Heart Association:

    Among adults age 20 and older in the United States, the following have high blood pressure:
    – For non-Hispanic whites, 33.4 percent of men and 30.7 percent of women.
    – For non-Hispanic blacks, 42.6 percent of men and 47.0 percent of women.

    These numbers go up with age group and are roughly similar to the covid comorbidity reported. I see no reason to suspect any causality here.

    So we have these possible causal flows:
    -Old age increases risk
    -Living in a nursing home increases risk
    -Being black increases risk
    -Being poor increases risk
    -Hypertension increases risk
    -Hypertension treatment drugs increase risk
    -more???

    It will be a long time I suspect before all these get teased out. Hopefully, the pandemic ends before we know all the answers.

  5. Deiseach says:

    Slacking off before I have to participate in a payroll training webinar in ten minutes time, so for your entertainment needs (if you’re truly desperate and have watched everything on Netflix already) – the Virtual Eurovision!

    Tuesday night was the first half, tonight will be the second half. Not as fun as the real thing but pick your potential “that could have been a winner”.

  6. WashedOut says:

    I am a “deep technical specialist” in a very large global company. I consider the company pathological in it’s systems of management and in it’s willful, selective blindness of certain classes of risk and misconduct.

    I recently asked myself the question “Why do I get paid as much as I do?” and did not expect the answer to be as insightful (at least to me) as it was:
    It’s not because my job requires me to spend so much time away from home with working remotely – plenty of people see their family only for an hour in the morning and 2 hours in the evening due to demanding work hours and commutes, and don’t get compensated for it.
    It’s not because my job is hard or exposes me to significant risk.
    It’s not due to a skills shortage in my field.

    All of the above may be true but I don’t think they hold the most explanatory power. I think I get paid a lot of money as compensation for never being allowed to question the underlying assumptions and structures of the system. I think an analogous situation is being a Russian mail-order bride for an American billionaire: I’m wanted for my assets, and having me on the team means that my employer/partner gains legitimacy. I’m allowed free-reign within my small sphere of competency but if I question the decision-making process it get’s parsed as an insult and a lack of gratitude for the position i’ve been granted.

    On the face of it this might seem like a dead-end for job satisfaction and wellbeing. On the contrary i’m getting more and more utility out of it the more I think like this. Letting go of the idea that my income is the fruit of my towering intellect (hah) and iron discipline is to disabuse myself of a rather egotistical delusion. Acknowledging that the vast majority of people are functionally estranged from their families whilst maintaining the appearance of being at home is humbling and makes me more compassionate. Admitting that most people could do what I do if they were so inclined allows me to be a better teacher and mentor.

    Has anyone else passed through the zero-point of their career and come out the other side in a similar way?

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Smart people can always convince “Joe Sixpack” (those are beer cans, not abs) that they should get paid more because they’re smarter, because they’re smarter. (Not a typo).

      Do you really believe that anyone is competent enough to do your job, or just that even if an incompetent person was put in charge, it wouldn’t cause any damage?

      • WashedOut says:

        Do you really believe that anyone is competent enough to do your job, or just that even if an incompetent person was put in charge, it wouldn’t cause any damage?

        If an incompetent person was put in charge, any damage they caused would be swept under the carpet and never attributed to technical skills gap, because that would force the company to examine itself.

    • Elephant says:

      I’m not sure I understand your reasoning. “I think I get paid a lot of money as compensation for never being allowed to question the underlying assumptions and structures of the system.” If that were it, couldn’t they find someone to more cheaply not question things? (I would think not questioning is a pretty easy skill to acquire!)

      Your later sentence may explain things: “I’m wanted for my assets, and having me on the team means that my employer/partner gains legitimacy.” In other words, there are skills that you possess that are useful not because they are useful to the tasks, but because they demonstrate to others “this is the type of person on our team.” This point seems quite separate from the first one — you could still in principle display these attributes to people outside, but internally question the system.

      • Deiseach says:

        “I think I get paid a lot of money as compensation for never being allowed to question the underlying assumptions and structures of the system.” If that were it, couldn’t they find someone to more cheaply not question things?

        At a certain level, high salaries are their own justification: you pay them because that’s what you were paid and increases commensurate with seniority/promotion depend on them (if you cut down at lower levels, it gets increasingly hard to justify “so why aren’t you getting a cut the same way?” and then the figleaf is off, it’s all about naked power – ‘I get this because I can award this to myself’). It’s the excuse for high salaries/compensation packages in charities and the public service: “we need to match private sector remuneration, else these highly qualified people wouldn’t work for us!”

        No, it’s like the Ben and Jerry experiment with wage structures; eventually you have to give in because people want to be paid those scales because “everyone else is getting them”.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Deiseach, I’m not sure I understand the distinction in your comment between “we need to match private sector remuneration, else these highly qualified people wouldn’t work for us!” and “people want to be paid those scales because “everyone else is getting them”.”

          It seems like you’re saying that the latter is the truth, whereas the former is a falsehood. But they seem like restatements to me- if they don’t match private salaries, people won’t work for them, because they want the same pay that everyone else (in the private sector, mostly) is getting. I mean, “the value of a thing is the amount someone is willing to pay for it” is paraphrased constantly in business.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I’m not sure I understand your reasoning. “I think I get paid a lot of money as compensation for never being allowed to question the underlying assumptions and structures of the system.” If that were it, couldn’t they find someone to more cheaply not question things? (I would think not questioning is a pretty easy skill to acquire!)

        I think the idea here is “I’m being paid a certain and high amount for my skills and my time. I’m being paid even more on top of that to not use those same skills to raise questions about what my management does.”

        A company might pay N to a baseline employee, 1.2*N to a skilled version of baseline, 1.1*N to an unquestioning baseline, and 1.1*1.2*N to a skilled unquestioning baseline.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Not the same, but similar in a sense – I decided I was all done with ambition, and was just going to accumulate a nice heap of retirement savings, and get the h**l out of the pathological environment.(*)

      I feel reasonably certain that if I put the effort into a lot of BS, I could climb another rung on the local technical ladder, picking up a few really nice bonuses on the way followed by a nice fat raise – in about 5 years.

      At the point when I came to that conclusion, I was in my late 50s, and close to paying off my mortgage. It was too late to really do the FIRE thing. But it was incredibly liberating to realize that putting up with BS in an attempt to increase my salary/achieve another promotion was no longer cost effective; better to simply arrange things such that I wouldn’t be working long enough for the increase to matter.

    • Lambert says:

      Have an exit strategy and keep an eye on any rats that might be about to depart the sinking ship.

    • Garrett says:

      I mention to others: “You get paid for the parts of the job you don’t enjoy.”
      I volunteer in EMS because I gain personal satisfaction for developing and maintaining a skill-set I want to have. But I’ve had other people tell me “I’d do this job for free if I didn’t have to write trip sheets.” In essence, they are being paid to do the parts of the job that aren’t enjoyable.

      I am by training, profession, and inclination a software developer. Were I to switch full-time careers I’d almost certainly take up programming on the side. But being willing to program for free doesn’t mean I’m willing to program any arbitrary thing for free. There’s a big difference between writing software to scratch your own itch, and writing particular software (and the associated documentation, user support, etc., etc.) which is part of a saleable product. There’s no way I’d put up with the annoyances of the corporate world without being paid well.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      I think I get paid a lot of money as compensation for never being allowed to question the underlying assumptions and structures of the system.

      Just like with your other examples, plenty of people are never allowed to question pretty much anything for a rather modest salary. If anything, the correlation is reverse – do you thing minimal-wage workers are often invited to question their company’s system? And what about VCs or top technical specialists?

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      This seems like a testable hypothesis. Find out what the salaries for the same kind of work are at less dysfunctional employers? The gap is the “accepting bullshit” premium the company is effectively paying you.

  7. Uribe says:

    Let’s say I’m in the hotel business and my hotels rely a lot on conferences for business. What are smart things to do once conferences are no longer out of the question but danger remains?

    There’s obvious things like more cleaning of surfaces and perhaps UV blasting frequently.

    What about humidifiers in the conference rooms and hallways? It sounds like there’s some evidence that humidity may mitigate transmission. What else?

    • Robin says:

      Ventilation. Get fresh air in frequently.
      Have people speaking and yelling less. So, a microphone for the speaker instead of the “direct to ear” fad?
      I don’t know if wearing masks is that much fun.

      For more information, see here:
      https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them

    • Randy M says:

      Probably have everyone sit in rows facing the speaker instead of around a table facing each other. Ventilation is good, but not if it blows from one person to another.

      • John Schilling says:

        Probably have everyone sit in rows facing the speaker instead of around a table facing each other

        Except that the actual point of conferences is for people to talk to each other, not to listen to speeches. If they can’t do that in your conference rooms, they’ll do it in the halls. You’ve got a better chance of getting it right in the conference room.

        • Randy M says:

          I suspect conferences are one of the last things we should restart while there’s still (significantly higher than normal) danger, then.

          If the point is to talk to as many strangers as possible, and subsequent to that, it’s probably noisy and you need to speak loudly as you mill about, you’re probably worse than cruise ships or churches.

          • John Schilling says:

            Nowhere near cruise ship or church levels in properly-run conferences, just quiet conversations with plenty of spacing. If you screw things up by saying “no sidebar conversations”, those just move into more crowded spaces so don’t do that.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, we’ve been to different conferences.

        • zoozoc says:

          I think the only way to have a safe conference would be to have the conference outdoors and/or the participants wearing masks (transmission might be low enough outdoors to not require masks or perhaps masks are sufficient to allow it to be indoors, but at this point no one knows for sure, so safest would be to do both).

        • Robin says:

          My idea is not to ventilate during the talks by having a ventilator blow the air in circles, but to open all the windows in the pauses and get fresh air in.

          But @zoozoc is right, an outdoor conference would be paradise. I’ve always dreamed of a conference on a picnic meadow, or in beach chairs. Currently, of course two meters apart, with plenty of space for sunshades and tables with cocktails upon. Dump that Powerpoint, roll a whiteboard outside for the presenter. In Platon’s Academy, people weren’t sitting around, they were strolling in a grove of olive trees.

          Here’s another opportunity to have Covid improve our way of life!

    • Jaskologist says:

      Has anybody looked into having UV blasting specifically in the air circulation systems, between the intakes and outtakes?

    • zoozoc says:

      Here is an article that I found useful.

      https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them?fbclid=IwAR1j163iP3bL65neUK6kEvdh0aFTWDDGW1BrE4WuMHxZm8RIRClXz0mYNg0

      Basically recycling air is bad and will probably cause others to get sick. Having fresh air from outside would prevent this. But a conference sounds like exactly the type of thing that would cause COVID-19 spread because people are spending a lot of time all together in the same room talking/breathing.

  8. GearRatio says:

    I need help identifying titles in a particular genre I am imagining exists. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series is set in sort of a frontier/homesteader world, sort of similar to Little House on the Prairie. There’s magic, but there’s not nearly as much magic as there used to be – the people who can still use it can do some neat tricks, but couldn’t launch a fireball at you or anything like that. The people who can’t use it are most of everybody and are just regular farmers besides sometimes being consumed by evil monsters.

    I want that same diminished magical environment, but set in a moderately-to-very shitty present day. The closest I can think of of the top of my head to this is the Shadowrun universe which is magic-in-the-ghetto in a lot of ways, but that’s different because magic isn’t going away so much as it’s come back full force.

    • SamChevre says:

      Following: I love the Sharing Knife books. (I still think World of the Five Gods is better, but it’s a close race.)

      • GearRatio says:

        I agree that the five gods books are better (I haven’t read all the Penrics, though) but for the purposes of this conversation they are inferior in that they are exactly what I want them to be. The sharing knife books are exactly what they should be, but not exactly what I want – I keep thinking “I want this, but set off of 27th and Van Buren”.

    • Nick says:

      It sounds like you’re interested in Urban Fantasy + Here There Were Dragons?

      I’m sure such series exist, though I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Except Stephenson’s recent Rise and Fall of DODO, but magic there is even more diminished than I think you have in mind.

      • GearRatio says:

        Very close. I think the only difference is Here There Were Dragons as depicted by tropes seems to depict magic being completely or very nearly gone in an extreme way I’m not imagining, but that’s pretty much it. I’ll take a look at the book you mentioned for sure.

        • John Schilling says:

          At the time the book starts (in essentially our own world), there is no working magic anywhere and only one person with firsthand knowledge of magic ever having worked even a little bit. With a bit of scientific assistance, it turns out that magic can be brought back in a few small areas. Then people with varying agendas start thinking about how to use that (va cneg ol zntvpnyyl gvzr-geniryyvat gb cnfg renf jurer zntvp jnf zber pbzzba).

    • MilesM says:

      Off the top of my head, “California Bones” by Greg van Eekhout might fit the bill? It’s a weird alternate-history where California is a mageocracy, but the ‘osteomantic’ magic driving it is a limited resource that’s running out.

      Although it focuses pretty heavily on the handful of people who are powerful magicians, magic is nowhere near as prevalent and balls-out powerful as Shadowrun.

      Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has (I think) some of what you’re looking for, but not quite. And it’s not exactly obscure, so you’re probably already familiar with it.

      The only other thing that comes to mind is some British series about blood-driven magic, but a) it impressed so little I can’t remember the book or author and b) trying to search for urban fantasy and blood magic is not helpful because apparently that’s a popular theme with hack fantasy writers who like sexy witches.

      I could actually use some good fantasy recommendations myself. Some of my favorites are Lois McMaster Bujold, Steven Brust, Tim Powers…

      • GearRatio says:

        I’ll check both of those out, thank you – I have American Gods on a shelf somewhere but had forgotten about it. Gaiman is sometimes a little…. cynical, I guess, for my tastes , but that might scratch the itch. The other seems like a decent bet too. Thank you!

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Possibly the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Rivers of London (published in the US as Midnight Riot), might be what you’re looking for. It’s a magical police procedural set in present-day London (often in poorer areas), and there is very much a sense that magic used to be more common- though I get the sense that, rather than the magic going away for its own reasons, most of the wizards killed each other in WW2.

  9. Tenacious D says:

    It seems fairly possible to me that a lot of businesses in the travel & hospitality sector might be hit hard enough that they’ll need to auction off assets to cut costs or pay creditors. Are there any uses for things like cruise ships, commercial planes, and hotels that don’t make sense now, but would if they could be acquired for pennies on the dollar?

    • Incurian says:

      Seasteading!

    • LesHapablap says:

      If I was a small or medium size business unaffected by the downturn that had considered getting a plane for business travel in the past, now would definitely be the time to purchase. And with all the pilots furloughed you could set up a flight department for half the cost.

      • mfm32 says:

        Maintenance costs and most other operating costs have not changed much. Yes, jet fuel is 70% off one year ago, but that’s only 10% below 2000 levels and operating an airplane was still super expensive back then. And fuel is not nearly as big a factor for corporate operators as it is for airlines, since a corporate jet will often fly less in a year than an airline will fly in a month.

        The only difference now is that the used airplane you buy might be a bit newer and a bit more fuel efficient. Neither of those factors is going to swing the business case, especially for a corporate flight department that flies very little. And you will still need to spend millions dollars refitting the interior if you want anything resembling a corporate jet on the inside.

        Finally, the main category of airplanes that will be for sale are widebodies. Only the very, very largest companies could even begin to justify owning a widebody. And you would not want a widebody to be your only plane: not only are they way more expensive to operate, they cannot fly into most of the GA airports you’d want to use.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Overheads like salaries, capital cost, insurance and depreciation are a much higher portion of overall costs for a corporate flight department, since they don’t fly nearly as many hours. That means that getting a turbine powered airplane like a King Air or light jet or caravan for pennies on the dollar, or even half price, would reduce costs by a whole lot.

        In normal times, annual capital cost + insurance +depreciation would be 3-4x the hourly cost for an airplane that flies 30k nm per year. With a half price aircraft you’d have no depreciation, half the insurance and capital cost. You’d be close to halving the biggest expenses of the business. And then salaries will be much much lower than you’d ever get in normal times.

        And there will be lots of aircraft of all types on the market soon if the economy gets as bad as it is meant to, not just wide-body jets. Lots of airlines of all sizes all over the world are struggling.

        • mfm32 says:

          I don’t think anyone is forecasting 50%+ declines in values for turboprops. Their values tend to be more resilient because the aircraft lifetimes and model cycles are longer and they can be readily converted for cargo use, which will be more resilient and in more demand given the reduction in passenger traffic. How many are even in scheduled pax service today? Must be a tiny fraction.

          You still depreciate used aircraft. I’m not sure what you’re getting at there, but it isn’t consistent with how any business big enough to buy an airplane would account for it. I’m also not sure insurance would drop as much as you think. You’re not just insuring the value of the aircraft.

          Meanwhile, charter rates should drop in lockstep with everything else, and I would expect marginal customers to move to charter / fractional ownership vs. buying an old turboprop.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Here in NZ, there are 25 cessna caravans. 16 of them did tourism scenic flights or tourist skydiving and haven’t moved for 6 weeks. 6 are still doing scheduled pax though their numbers are way down. 3 of them do a combination of pax and cargo and they have barely flown one of them in the last 6 weeks. So, no dedicated cargo at all. My company has one of them and we would sell it in a heartbeat but there is no point even putting it on the market: it is sale-proof. There isn’t any cargo market suddenly appearing and the recovery back to 2019 will take years.

            Africa is probably the same, lots of luxury charter, regular charter and scenic aircraft which will be doing nothing for a long time. Hawaii, Indonesia, Philipines, continental US, Grand Canyon, any place with tourism or rich people flying around for fun will have lots of machines for sale when these companies go bust or cut back. And with the economy being what it is, nobody will be buying them with a plan to start a new venture or expand. They might buy them to mothball for the future but only at a price that lets the thing sit for a few years until the market picks up.

            So while it may not be a drop of 50%, for just about every aircraft it will definitely be the best time ever to buy them if you have a use for it.

            For tax and accounting purposes you’d claim depreciation yes, but if you bought an airplane very cheaply at the bottom of a recession then the actual value isn’t going to go down. And most of the cost of insurance is a % of hull value. Maybe that is different in the US where liability is a much bigger concern.

      • Garrett says:

        Under what conditions does it really make sense for a company to have a corporate jet these days? Not occasionally-charter-a-plane-for-a-big-conference thing, or CEO-one-upmanship sort of thing?

        • John Schilling says:

          If you’re routinely sending teams of executives to business meetings across a wide area, e.g. to negotiate contracts, the jet probably still costs more than the competing business-class airline tickets but the scheduling flexibility may make up for it in saving expensive time. But this has to be a very common occurrence to justify having your own jet rather than just chartering at need.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Here’s a good video about the economics of private jets:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYPrH4xANpU

          Bear in mind there are cheaper options than jets that make sense for some small businesses. There’s a LOT of small airports around that can be accessed by non-jet aircraft. Mostly they are hassle free as well, with just a chain link fence and gate between your plane and the car park.

          You can see all the airports here (the blue or purple dots)
          https://skyvector.com/

    • Bobobob says:

      I suggest buying a cruise ship at fire-sale prices and converting it to carry oil.

      • Aapje says:

        Transport ships are relatively cheap to build compared to their running costs, which is why Old Panamax ship values plummeted to scrap value once the bigger locks opened.

        You will simply be outcompeted by ships that are actually designed to carry oil. Note that for obvious reasons, there are a bunch of regulations for oil tankers (for example, to greatly reduce the chance that they will become uncontrollable and crash into something like a zombie). Retrofitting this on a cruise ship is surely going to be extremely expensive.

    • Uribe says:

      If you can acquire cruise ships, commercial planes or hotels now for pennies on the dollar they make the most sense as investments to be used in a year or two as cruise ships, commercial planes and hotels.

  10. Bobobob says:

    So a few years ago, for my birthday, my wife bought me the Keith Haring “Double Retrospect” 32,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I can’t possibly do it–I would need an extra room in my house and 10 years of free time–but it’s a fun artifact to have around.

    The punchline is, my wife paid $300 for it, and it is now selling on Ebay for over $5,000 (since it was only available in limited supplies in the first place, and is now out of print).

    Anyone else out there unintentionally/accidentally/fortuitously own something that has now become extremely valuable?

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      . . . and it is now selling on Ebay for over $5,000 (since it was only available in limited supplies in the first place, and is now out of print).

      And because people really need time-consuming stuff to do indoors.

      • Bobobob says:

        I was seeing that price even before COVID-19. The question now is, how do I find a rich person who’s bored enough to pay me $10,000 for my jigsaw puzzle?

        • AG says:

          Post a link to the auction in a jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts community/forum?

        • Beans says:

          If you’ve seen them selling on ebay, you could try that. You can make listings that are just for a particular price rather than committing to an auction.

          Though if you make more than a small amount of money on ebay you get an extra form to figure out what to do with next time you file taxes, as I’ve learned.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I was surprised to find out my copy of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, a $30 bargain purchase at the time, now sells for $200 used. The game sold poorly at release and had a low print run, but its main character Ike’s appearance in Smash made him fairly popular. 10 years later, Fire Emblem is wildly popular and people want to play the game Ike came from, but strangely Nintendo has never rereleased it in any form. Though there are semi-credible rumors of a remake in the works.

      • Bobobob says:

        In a previous life (25+ years ago), I reviewed video games for a major national magazine. At one point I had literally 2,000 Nintendo, Sega, name-your-system games taking up an entire room in my apartment, including some that I imagine are extremely rare collectors’ items now. I sold them all to a used-game store for a couple thousand dollars cash. Sometimes I wish I had rented a storage locker instead so I can pay for my kids’ college educations.

      • CatCube says:

        I was surprised as well. I gave my GameCube and games to my nephew as a Christmas gift, and when I was looking at the used game store to see if there was anything additional he might like to give him, happened to see that Path of Radiance was hundreds of dollars. I ended up not giving that particular game to him with the rest, because it would have been pretty unfair to basically give him an extra $200 that I wasn’t giving his sisters.

    • Dino says:

      I bought a guitar for $70 that turned out to be a valuable collectable, sold it for $900.

      • WashedOut says:

        “Never regret a good trade” and all that, but valuable collectible guitars are worth much, much more than $900. A standard American Stratocaster can set you back about $3k for a particularly nice model, and that’s an off-the-shelf guitar at your local shop.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I got my banjo from a pawn shop in the time before eBay was popular. I paid $900 for it, and it was worth about $3,500 at the time, and is now over $5,000. I ran into the pawn shop guy about a year later, he remembered me as the guy he sold the banjo to and was faux-mad because he discovered eBay a few weeks later, looked up the banjo and was pissed. But hey, I still play it to this day, so I think it found a good home.

        • Bobobob says:

          You know what’s weird? I’ve sometimes been to thrift shops/used book stores/etc. where I’ve nicely alerted the owner that he’s selling an item for way less than it’s worth. Rather than thanking me and upping the price, I always get a defensive reaction, like I’m challenging his ability to appraise things. So I’ve actually wound up paying *less* for something than I was prepared to.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah, I didn’t say anything when I saw it, I was just worried it was priced so low because there was something wrong with it. I got a promise* from the pawn shop guy that I could have it inspected and could return it if it wasn’t okay, took it to my banjo teacher who signed off on it and congratulated me, and I told the pawn shop guy it was a deal. I do kind of wonder how he got it that cheap, though…

            * I mean, I have no idea if the pawn shop guy would have honored the promise, but thankfully I didn’t need to find out.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I’ve collected pokemon toys since I was a kid. A surprising amount of the merchandise released in the johto and hoenn era (2002-2006 or so) has increased dramatically in price, due to its limited availability outside of Japan when it was released. I have several plush that I bought for 15 dollars that are now worth 150-300 each. There are also the giant plush, which retailed for around 200-300 and are now worth anywhere from 1500-3000, depending on the Pokemon. (Those were outside of my price range when I was younger, alas.)

      Edit to add: I used to buy cheap pokemon items, usually from Japan, and resell for a profit. It made a surprising amount of money. I had to stop doing it a few years ago, however, when I almost qualified as a “small business” on my taxes.

  11. baconbits9 says:

    I have basically positioned our finances for a deflationary recession so I am fairly aggressively looking for arguments/signs that an inflationary period is going to begin, so what follows is simply an attempt to make that case and not a prediction: So the case for near term inflation looks something like this in my view-

    The CPI report that came out today showed a -0.8% inflation rate and a -0.4% core inflation rate. Of note

    The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.8 percent in
    April on a seasonally adjusted basis, the largest monthly decline since December
    2008

    And

    The index for all items less food and energy fell 0.4 percent in April, the
    largest monthly decline in the history of the series, which dates to 1957.

    So a very large decrease in prices relative to the history of the series.

    The breakdown is very important though- energy prices were the largest contributor with a 10% seasonably adjusted decline with gasoline prices dropping 20.6%. The next largest (non energy) drops were airline fares (-15%), vehicle insurance (-7.2%), apparel (-4.7%), this is where the case for rising inflation (as measured by CPI) in the near term starts. As it stands the oil collapse into April could be a one off event, and broadly the 3 month drop (CPI hit to gasoline was -3.4%, -10.5% and 20.6% for Jan, Feb, Mar) has been a significant factor in holding down headline CPI. Now oil prices have bounced back to well below their Dec prices but well above their April/May lows. If* oil prices were to stabilize in the $22-$32 range then the next few CPI reports will likely have either a neutral or positive energy component for oil.

    Similarly airfares have dropped for 3 months (-0.3%, -12.6%, -15.2%) and a flatline in prices or even a small increase would flip them from a large drag to a neutral to upwards pressure.

    Shelter was flat (0.0) but rent and OER were up slightly (0.2 each), while lodging (hotels and dorms etc) dropped by 7.1% after a drop of 6.8% for Feb-Mar. Missed rent and mortgage payments and forbearance will be a drag on the housing industry but won’t directly be a drag in rental prices and OER until empty units hit the market, and policy is currently aimed at keeping people in their homes and stalling evictions. It is a reasonable (but far from certain) proposition that as the economy reopens the drag of lodging decreases or disappears and shelter starts being a net upward pressure on CPI.

    On the upward pressure side we have food, and specifically food at home, leading the way. Food costs rose 1.5% and food at home 2.6% after posting increases of 0.3% and 0.5% the month prior. The increase is food costs was very broad based with only a small number of goods showing declining prices with those goods being heavily weighted toward luxury items such as cakes, other fresh fruits (ie not apples, bananas or citrus) and prepared salads. Food away from home posted a 0.1% increase with full service meals and snacks dropping by 0.3%. There is a plausible world (again not near definite) where reopening leads to increasing restaurant prices with fewer people per restaurant plus higher input costs from slow to recover supply chains with lower competition (restaurants that don’t reopen) which puts upward pressure on the food component of CPI.

    I think you can construct a reasonable, but highly conditional and short of compelling, case where this combination of things occurs.

    1. Energy prices stabilize and rise some due to the combination of much lower production and a very low baseline.
    2. Rental prices stay flat to slightly increasing due to technical details about the market, while lodging prices stop declining.
    3. Auto insurance discounts due to lower driving stop and reverse slowly as driving picks up again.
    4. Food prices remain elevated and rising as the supply chain fails to rebound (restaurant closures would fall in this category), especially with potential shocks from a trade war with China.
    5. (and this is probably the big one) no large drops in other categories that were near 0 in this past report, and there are some significant candidates here (auto prices, used and new, i’m looking at you here).

    *There are going to be a lot of ifs.

    • Matt M says:

      The next largest (non energy) drops were airline fares (-15%)

      I feel like I should know this, but I don’t, so I’ll ask?

      When they update these numbers, do they also update the “basket of goods” itself?

      Like, falling airline fare prices don’t do people any good when nobody is flying because they’re terrified of getting the plague.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t know. I know that they re-weight the basket but I don’t know when/how quickly.

        • nkurz says:

          > I know that they re-weight the basket but I don’t know when/how quickly.

          I was wondering about this too. My quick searching seems to say that in 2002, they switched from updating the “market basket” every 10 years to every 2 years. But despite updating to a new basket every two years, there is still a 3-4 year lag from the collection of data to the utilization.

          In the examples I can find: “There is a time lag between the expenditure survey and its use in the CPI. For example, CPI data in 2016 and 2017 was based on data collected from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys for 2013 and 2014” (https://www.bls.gov/cpi/questions-and-answers.htm) and “The weights used in the CPI in 2014 & 2015 are based on consumer expenditures in 2011-2012” (http://washstat.org/presentations/20141028/reed.pdf).

          I think this means the the current market basket used to weight the CPI was probably established in 2016-17, and unless the BLS speeds up their process, the current 2020 Covid-affected spending patterns won’t affect the defined basket until 2023-24.

          • Matt M says:

            So basically, none of the inflation/deflation numbers we see for the next two years are going to be meaningful, at all.

            Got it.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I have basically positioned our finances for a deflationary recession

      Fifty percent cash, fifty percent canned goods?

      (That was a joke, but I’m still curious about your take on the strategy.)

      • baconbits9 says:

        1 rental property (illiquid as all get out since its a twin attached to our main residence)
        401k entirely in T bonds, 67% standard, 33% TIPS
        Gold at today’s prices worth roughly 5/8ths of the 401k value.
        Cash about 3/8ths 401k value
        3+ months of calories
        productive vegetable garden

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Hmm. I think of gold as an inflation hedge, not a deflation hedge. Am I missing something?

          Yes, I wish I had started a vegetable garden before now. The produce in stores seems distinctly inferior to what it was B.C. but at least for now one can still get it.

          Otherwise that’s much like where I am at, except I am not as convinced as you of what’s coming, so I’ve still got some equity funds. But my only justification for that position is the efficient market hypothesis — the crowd seems to think we’ll muddle through.

          Thanks.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            B.C.

            Cute.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Gold is weird, it was very volatile around the Lehman collapse (what wasn’t?) but it did well from late 2008 through mid 2011 with UE rising through late 2009 and inflation remaining low for a few years, and gold has done well in terms of Yen while Japan has muddled through low inflation/deflation for the past 30 years.

            We don’t have a good historical comparison for an absolute crash, but gold held over over the span of the great depression with dollars being revalued down against gold and prices falling in dollar terms for long stretches.

            With that said if the Dollar Milkshake Theory ends up correct then we could see gold tank, easily to $1400, and conceivably to $1100, still my bonds should do well in that scenario for long enough to hold onto gold for its rebound in a pinch.

        • j1000000 says:

          No stocks whatsoever?

      • S_J says:

        I have basically positioned our finances for a deflationary recession

        Fifty percent cash, fifty percent canned goods?

        (That was a joke, but I’m still curious about your take on the strategy.)

        Don’t forget some quantity of machined-steel implements, and appropriate additional supplies made from brass, gunpowder, and lead…

    • keaswaran says:

      The last point you mention seems important to me. A lot of businesses want to reopen, but at lower capacity. I think this may well be a bad idea that will lead to a lot more business failures, as these businesses restart their expenses but aren’t able to earn anywhere near enough revenue to cover them. But if the businesses do manage to survive, it will be by drastically increasing prices. Perhaps the “basket of goods” will change in response – instead of one $30 restaurant meal a week, people will go for one $120 restaurant meal a month. But there’s a plausible mechanism here for some sort of increase in the price level if supply of many services (and some goods) is restricted by pandemic protocols.

      • albatross11 says:

        It seems like this is going to drive cost-push inflation–prices go up because producing goods and services takes more resources, rather than because more people want stuff and so they’re bidding up the prices. That’s inflation, but I think it will look pretty different from demand-driven inflation….

        • baconbits9 says:

          Cost push inflation tends to be self limiting, the higher prices actually lead to higher production, but when there is a cap on production via a cartel or government restriction it can manifest for a longer term.

    • tg56 says:

      I think there’s some danger in focusing on the CPI and how it’s impacted (though very important for your TIPS), but forgetting that that’s a proxy for inflation not the actual thing, and at the moment there’s reasons to believe it might be a less then perfect proxy. The standard basket of goods is going through huge shifts and swings on short timescales (both at an individual level and society level) and it’s probably not capturing that well.

      The stronger inflation case is prob. from a monetary perspective. The government is using borrowed / printed (or eqv.) money to try to keep incomes whole during the lockdown. But many goods and services aren’t being produced. That’s more money chasing less goods and services. Right now a lot of that extra money is being parked in banks (and by all appearances stocks) since people can’t spend it or are being cautious. but that could come flooding back into deferred consumption at some point triggering at least a pulse of inflation (which has the danger of becoming self-perpetuating in an inflationary spiral). But there’s countervailing forces as well, so personally I’m not sure what to expect.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        +1. It seems likely that price of many things is going to drop and price of many others is going to rise. Whether this will lead to an increase in given inflation index might heavily depend on the construction of said index.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think there’s some danger in focusing on the CPI and how it’s impacted (though very important for your TIPS), but forgetting that that’s a proxy for inflation not the actual thing, and at the moment there’s reasons to believe it might be a less then perfect proxy. The standard basket of goods is going through huge shifts and swings on short timescales (both at an individual level and society level) and it’s probably not capturing that well

        I agree with this as a general principle, however I think you sell CPI a bit short. Understanding the breakdown of its components has three solid benefits
        1. Understanding how price shifts might impact me and my family in our decision making
        2. Understand how TIPS might act against other asset classes
        3. Being better prepared for a shift in policy response if CPI does change direction.

        The last point being the most important, while I don’t think CPI is a particularly good metric on its own (especially not in a crisis) I do expect that policy makers will be forced to react in some way to a rise in CPI.

    • Cliff says:

      Inflation is a monetary phenomenon. It has nothing to do with some prices getting higher and some getting lower. It only has to do with the demand for and supply of money. Currently the demand for holding money has increased and the Fed has not adequately increased the supply. Therefore we are experiencing deflation. The future path of inflation will depend primarily on what the Fed does. Bond spreads anticipate low but positive inflation over the next few years, based on the currently expected policy path.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Inflation is a monetary phenomenon. It has nothing to do with some prices getting higher and some getting lower.

        And the original definition of inflation was simply an increase in the money supply! Wow, see all the neat and interesting and completely useless conclusions I can draw from that one!

        Your definition tells me, or anyone else, nothing. You can tell me your interpretation of why prices moved a full month after that opinion had any value or merit, it is a perfect ex post, un-falsifiable definition that tells us nothing of use.

  12. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Could I get a good and detailed article about whether the Post Office (pre-covid) was being abused or not by being required to have their pensions funded?

    I do not want an appeal to authority. I have plenty of authorities that have appealed to their authoritiness that I should trust them on this issue. We are too far past that.

    As a ground rule: if a company has a single employee, with 30 years under his belt, and who is going to retire in 5 years with a big pension, I say they should have that person’s pension mostly funded right now.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      I found Elizabeth Bauer’s articles on the topic reasonably well explained, and the Tax Foundation’s primer has lots of citations.

      The answer is that it’s complicated (as usual), but the USPS has defined benefit pensions (which already have been pre-funded for a long time) and offers medical benefits to retirees that it can’t just rescind (unlike most private companies, which reserve that right). It’s the latter liability which went from pay-as-you-go to fund-up-front-based-on-actuarial-predictions starting in 2006. That transition was front-loaded from 2006-2016 which looked sane when the law was passed (partly because the USPS was allowed to decrease its actual pension contributions because it was way ahead of schedule on funding those, so it had extra money available at the time), but caused trouble when postal revenues fell dramatically starting in 2008. From 2016 onwards the cost of funding the plan is similar to that of pay-as-you-go (it was ~25% higher in 2019).

  13. JohnNV says:

    I want to tell you about the greatest pun I’ve ever heard. I rowed varsity crew in college. I was in the lightweight 8 boat and we were pretty good, nationally ranked. Our captain and stroke seat was a guy named Ed, who went on after college to row with an elite boat club in Boston and had a realistic shot at making the Olympics but never quite did. Before one race when they were calling for the light 8’s to launch, we couldn’t find Ed, and we were starting to panic. One of the women rowers called us the “Ed-less Oarsmen” 🥁

  14. johan_larson says:

    One of the problems the US faced in the Vietnam War was the weakness of its partner. The South Vietnamese state wasn’t just poor; its army was badly run, its officials were routinely corrupt, and none of its many presidents seemed able to run the government or inspire the citizenry.

    Let’s suppose the US had recognized the problem and tried to fix it from the top, by backing its own choice for president. The Vietnamese might have cried foul, but ultimately they would almost certainly have had to go along.

    Who would have been the best choice for the appointment? I have to believe that somewhere among the South Vietnamese elite they could have found someone who was reasonably honest, effective, and well-connected.

    • Aapje says:

      After the coup against Ngô Đình Diệm, the South Vietnamese government remained unstable. So was there actually someone better?

      • johan_larson says:

        After the coup, the government was dominated by the generals. They certainly tried a long list of men from that group, and none seemed particularly suited to the task. But perhaps someone from outside that group could have done the job if given the chance. The forty-some province chiefs would be a decent place to start looking.

    • Skeptic says:

      I’m not sure I agree with the premise.

      Syngman Rhee wasn’t a model of clean effective governance. Over 100,000 Koreans died in the instability and insurgency in the South prior to 1950 and the invasion.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        While you are correct about Syngman Rhee – the difference between the southern and northern regimes was mostly one of degree, not kind, in the early going – it’s also important not to read too much into the parallels between Korea and Vietnam. There’s a lot of key differences.

        The crucial difference is that in Vietnam the South needed to win a struggle for popular support and establish itself as a legitimate government, in Korea there was no such struggle. Why?

        Let’s contrast Korea and Vietnam. In the first place, Korea did not become independent as a result of an internal national struggle. There were Korean independence groups of various ideological stripes, but none as large or as well-organized or equipped as the Viet Minh. These groups did not eject the Japanese from the peninsula – Japan voluntarily evacuated as part of the terms of surrender in 1945. Thus, from the beginning Korea’s independence was the result of the actions of other, larger nations. Then the country was artificially and “temporarily” divided at the 38th parallel, and each super power set up a puppet regime in “its” half. This is crucial – the Kim dynasty was not the result of a spontaneous love of Communism among Koreans, but was a foreign regime imposed by Soviet backers on the North. They plucked a struggling Communist guerrilla fighter out of Manchuria, groomed him in Moscow for a few years, gave him a heroic backstory, and then stuck him in Pyongyang in 1945. Personally, I suspect these origins are why the Kims so relentlessly mythologize their own origins and heroic deeds, because at heart they’re deeply insecure in a way that Ho Chi Minh never was.

        Anyway, the result is that neither Korean regime could plausibly claim to be the true representation of the will of the Korean people. Both were authoritarian dictatorships dependent on foreign backing for survival.

        Contrast this with Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were legitimately an army of independence, with widespread popular support through the nation. Vietnam was divided as a way for France to save face as it was more or less driven out of the country, and only the US’s blundering made it a Cold War flashpoint in the first place. While Ho needed Chinese and Russian weapons, that was more to wage his war against the US-backed South than to maintain his own regime, which was quite popular and secure. Many VC fighters were originally Viet Minh fighters – they fought for independence against the French and that struggle simply continued against the Americans and their puppets, who were standing in the way of the legitimate government of all of Vietnam. Remember, famously, that if the elections promised by the Geneva Accords had taken place, Ho Chi Minh would have won something like 80% of the vote.

        That’s the largest factor why Korea and Vietnam are not the same, but there are other reasons, too.

        For one, most South Koreans had experience of what Northern governance would be like. The North’s invasion in 1950 was brutal and killed tens of thousands of civilians in the scant few months the Kims controlled most of the peninsula. Then the war to hold back the North for the next 3 years helped forge a national identity and gave the ROKA institutional experience and confidence – something ARVN never really acquired. So while there WERE Northern sympathizers among the ROK populace, it was never a widespread movement that threatened the government.

        By contrast, in Vietnam the only regime most Southerners knew had been either the French, or the corrupt and incompetent Diem/Theiu administrations and their American “advisors.” And it was, by and large, terrible. For most peasants, the VC shadow administration was much more just and responsive than Saigon. So the murder and oppression by Diem/Theiu stood in stark contrast with the imagined greener fields of rule by Hanoi. In Korea, this wasn’t so.

        For a third reason, geography. The best efforts of Pyongyang notwithstanding, there is no easy way to infiltrate South Korea from the north. The terrain is mountainous and all traffic must pass through a narrow, heavily fortified border stretching across the peninsula. Thus, the only way large armed enemy formations are entering the country is by crashing over the Imjin river and driving armored columns towards Seoul, as in June 1950. This scenario was the #1 nightmare of the various ROK governments, and the people of Korea live with this constant possibility in their heads. Thus, protests against the governments were often curtailed via the reminder that everyone needed to cooperate in order to keep Communist tanks away from the Blue House (as in Rhee’s fall in 1960, or during the instability following the 1979 assassination of President Park).

        In Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh trail allowed the North to infiltrate entire divisions into the South without a fight. That meant that the threat was insidious, and hidden among the people in a way the Korean war was not, and so it was much, much more important to have the support of the average villager if you wanted to exercise any real control over the country. So Rhee could be as oppressive as he liked (to a degree) and the people would still back him, because they remembered the hardship of the last Communist invasion and didn’t want to go through that again. Diem did not have that “luxury” since most people did NOT have that memory, and besides, no invasion was really necessary since the Communists were already there.

        It’s easy to point to the similarities between Vietnam and Korea, but it’s also important to keep in mind that the two conflicts differed in a thousand small but crucial details, too, and that’s ultimately why we were successful in one place but not in another.

    • detroitdan says:

      Ho Chi Minh?

      Amy Chua discusses this possibility in Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

      Ho even wrote to President Truman for assistance in winning their independence from the French, likening its struggle to that of the American colonists against the British.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Realistically if we wanted a Vietnam free of influence from Moscow or Beijing, this was our best choice.

        The biggest mistake the US’s best and brightest made in the early Cold War was assuming the Communists were a monolithic block, and that all the world was controlled by puppet strings from the Kremlin. Making the struggle ideological instead of national was a misstep – we could have been good partners with Ho Chi Minh.

    • Atlas says:

      Let’s suppose the US had recognized the problem and tried to fix it from the top, by backing its own choice for president. The Vietnamese might have cried foul, but ultimately they would almost certainly have had to go along.

      The US did recognize the problem; it tried to fix it by approving the assassination of Diem. From Max Hastings’ book on the Vietnam War:

      The countdown to the murder of President Ngo Dinh Diem started on August 23, 1963, when a top-secret cable to the State Department from Lodge demanded to know whether Washington would support a coup. A positive reply was drafted and sent to Saigon over a weekend when Kennedy, Rusk, and McNamara were out of town. Its authors were Averell Harriman, Roger Hilsman, and Michael Forrestal. If Diem refused to make reforms and sack his brother Nhu, they wrote in the name of the US government, “we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no longer support Diem. You may tell appropriate military commanders we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown. . . . Ambassador . . . should urgently examine all possible alternative leadership and make detailed plans as to how we might bring about Diem’s replacement if this should become necessary.”

      Who would have been the best choice for the appointment? I have to believe that somewhere among the South Vietnamese elite they could have found someone who was reasonably honest, effective, and well-connected.

      Maybe there were individual honest men, but the majority of officials seem to have been corrupt and/or ineffective, so I doubt that the US could have done anything much different than it actually did. From the same source:

      The gravest handicap burdening the Saigon regime was that scarcely any of its standard-bearers and officials had participated in the independence struggle; many, indeed, were former servants of the French. Diem broke an early promise to grant amnesty to Vietminh activists, whom he began to imprison. In Paris, Prime Minister Edgar Faure asserted that the little zealot was “not only incapable but mad,” and the US government was increasingly inclined to agree. Yet who else was there? Not until 1961 did Vice President Lyndon Johnson deliver his memorable apologia for Diem: “Shit, man, he’s the only boy we got out there.” But from 1954 onward, though Americans doubted the prime minister’s survivability, within the tiny circle of Saigon’s educated elite, they could identify no more plausible noncommunist candidate to rule…

      As late as 1960, about 75 percent of all the South’s farmland was owned by 15 percent of the population, almost all absentees because terror made them so. The communists urged peasants not to pay their rents, because defiance made them supporters of the revolution: if landlords and their government protectors regained control of a village, debts would have to be repaid. There was widespread resentment of Saigon’s reintroduction of the old colonial system of forced labor, whereby people were obliged to give five days’ free service a year to government projects. When the CIA’s William Colby pressed Diem for a radical redistribution of farmland, the president replied, “You don’t understand. I cannot eliminate my middle class.” Government-appointed village officials became petty tyrants with absolute power to decree the guilt or innocence of those beneath their sway, even to pass death sentences. The nurse running the local dispensary took bribes; so did the policeman counting families for taxes and the village council members arbitrating disputes. Fearful villagers felt obliged to invite their oppressors to become guests at weddings and funerals and to offer them choice cuts of the cats and dogs killed for food. Not all officials were bad, but the general run were incompetent, brutal, or corrupt, sometimes all three.

      Thus when assassinations became widespread in 1960–61, many villagers applauded, because the terrorists were skillful in targeting the most unpopular officials. Diem also introduced “agrovilles,” fortified hamlets into which peasants were compulsorily relocated. The objective was to isolate them from the communists, but the consequence was to alienate them, for most resented displacement. How brutal was Diem? The communists advanced a claim, to which they still adhere, that between 1954 and 1959 he killed 68,000 real or supposed enemies and arrested 466,000. These figures seem fantastically exaggerated, just as Southerners inflate numbers killed during the North’s land redistribution. What can be stated with confidence is that the Saigon government rashly promoted the interests of Catholics and persecuted former Vietminh.

      Whereas the Northern communists created a highly efficient police state, its workings veiled from the world, Diem and his family built a ramshackle one, its cruelties conspicuous. This achieved some success in inspiring fear but almost none in securing respect.

      There were of course honest, patriotic and effective Vietnamese; they mostly worked for the communists.

      • cassander says:

        the idea that the communists weren’t corrupt is dubious.

        • Atlas says:

          They don’t seem to have been perceived as in the same ballpark of corruption as GVN officials were. At least, they were much more dedicated. Per a 1964 RAND report on VC motivations:

          In 1964 the RAND Corporation had launched what became one of its most important projects, the Vietcong Motivation and Morale study. The Army was not much interested, and delegated as its representative a mere lieutenant, David Morrell, who became passionately committed. He said later, “The remarkable phenomenon we were probing was why did [the enemy] keep slugging it out so incredibly? . . . What was this cause, and why did they eschew the goodies we were trying to give . . . and just go and breathe under the reeds, live in the tunnels at Cu Chi?”

          Morrell was astonished that the US was undertaking this important survey without informing or consulting the South Vietnamese general staff. When the young RANDsmen’s Vietnamese researchers quizzed local people, they were appalled by the tales they heard from prisoners and defectors, detailing mistreatment and torture. In December 1964, the field team presented its initial findings to Westmoreland, arguing that the Vietcong must be regarded as a far more committed foe than his staff acknowledged. The general demanded, “Do they believe in God?” The interviewers were not sure about that. They were sure, however, about the torture, which made Ambassador Taylor look uncomfortable when they highlighted it during a briefing that he attended.

          The military men were unimpressed by the RAND report, which implied that the enemy was in a considerably better strategic place than were the rulers of South Vietnam. They remained baffled by the unwillingness of Vietnamese peasants to recognize that their material interests absolutely demanded partnership with the US. In January 1965, the Morale report was presented in Washington. RAND’s Harry Rowen told the assistant defense secretary, John McNaughton, “John, I think we’re signed up with the wrong side—the side that’s going to lose this war.” Daniel Ellsberg, McNaughton’s assistant, was impressed by RAND’s depiction of the enemy, who now controlled half of Vietnam’s countryside and a quarter of its population as “selfless, cohesive, dedicated soldiers who saw themselves as patriots, particularly within the context of a corrupt South Vietnam and a disintegrating army.” McNaughton responded to Rowen’s depiction of the communists by saying, “They sound like monks.” Yet he did not convey this exchange to McNamara, his boss, because he knew that the real argument was done and dusted. The administration had already made its commitment: to secure military victory in Vietnam.

          Senior NLF cadre Truong Nhu Tang expressed the bewilderment felt by himself and his kind: “The unrestrained irresponsibility and incompetence of the [Saigon] generals had led to apathy and disgust among people at every level. South Vietnam was a society without leadership and without direction—and these essentials the Americans could not provide. They could not impose order on chaos. And without a government that could claim at least some tatters of legitimacy and effectiveness, how could the United States dare commit its troops and its all-important prestige?”

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I don’t think a country that is ‘ripe’ for communism or has a communist revolution would instantaneously transform into the kind of stereotypical late-stage communist society.

          I also don’t think that a political movement that adopts the symbols of another which emerged at a different time and place is going to mirror it precisely.

    • fibio says:

      Assigning someone to lead Vietnam as if it were a colonial possession to be governed seems like a terrible idea no matter who give the poisoned chalice to. The whole issue with the South Vietnamese government was its corruption, the low social trust and a perception that they were stooges for a new colonial power. None of these are problems that can be fixed from without by spending more money and political capital on the problem.

  15. leadbelly says:

    I’m coasting. I am over 30, have a liberal arts bachelors, and have worked a series of admin jobs interspersed with travelling and unemployment. The pay is OK but the work is boring with limited progression (I spend a lot of time reading shit like this blog).

    I’ve never been able to work out what I want to do and so have taken the easiest path, basically, and I need to make a change soon if I am ever going to do so. I would much rather have a job that I find interesting, enjoyable, satisfying than one that pays a bit more, although if one could be had that provides a good income in half the hours per week I would jump on it. The idea of doing pretty much anything that comes under the normal umbrella of ‘a job’ for 40+ hours a week for decades is anathema to me. However, the cost of education is prohibitively high and I am still unsure of myself so I find it very difficult to do anything.

    I have (weakly) attempted learning python, but I find it boring and seems like it would take forever before I could do anything useful or interesting. Also, aren’t I about 20 years too late?

    I’ve thought about doing a masters degree in politics, philosophy, and economics as I am interested in politics and world affairs, especially China and its relationship with the world (although pessimistically that seems like it is rapidly turning sour, so may not be a good thing to be studying), and also in philosophy generally, but I doubt that it would be a decent return on investment. It does have ‘philosophy’ in the name after all…

    I’ve thought about attempting medical school (I believe grants can be had if successful) with an aim to becoming a psychiatrist, however, the years of cramming, examming, and all the messy regular doctoring needed before specialization is scary and I don’t think I could do it. Physiotherapy is a possible alternative but as I said I already have a bachelors and doing another seems impossible to afford.

    Besides ‘stop watching youtube videos’, ‘pick one and do it, you idiot’, etc., does anyone have any advice? On possible paths, or methods you have used for getting yourself out of a similar predicament?

    • Murphy says:

      I have (weakly) attempted learning python, but I find it boring and seems like it would take forever before I could do anything useful or interesting. Also, aren’t I about 20 years too late?

      Not sure how much it applies to you but as a coder, any time I’ve tried to sit down and just “learn [insert language here]” it’s been a bit of a miserable failure because it’s inherently boring.

      The greatest success learning languages has always been when I set out to make something specific that required I learn stuff about a programming language along the way.

      So sitting down to “learn python” = disaster.

      Sitting down to take some task I hate doing manually at work and automating it or setting out to make some kind of little game or similar: way way way more successful because the learning of the language ends up being instrumental rather than a terminal goal.

      You also might be surprised how fast you can get to something at least slightly useful. A few dozen lines of scripts automating boring things made my workday far more relaxed.

      I still occasionally get emails from grad students about my “learn matlab” project I made over a few weekends because I decided to make and publish a tool for one of my friends after we commiserated over boring grindy parts of our work over drinks and it turns out that a lot of other people had a use for a similar tool.

      So my advice if you might want to go the programming route would be that rather than trying to decide what you want to do with your life, find something that interests you and find some edges where you wish someone would make a useful tool to do X and try making it.

      Worst case scenario you lose a few hours and learn a bit of coding.

      • matkoniecz says:

        Sitting down to take some task I hate doing manually at work and automating it or setting out to make some kind of little game or similar

        For example – draw a fractal or generate an image of family of dwarves. Or maze. Or some other fractal. Or generate statistics about longest, most common, most unusual words in a book.

        I linked my repository, but I would probably recommend to look for tutorial if someone is completely starting. This is a part of materials that I used it in a programming lesson for a beginner. But with plenty of additional instruction.

      • goundo says:

        I have to say, this approach has never worked for me, despite the fact that it seems like a constant refrain in the programming world.

        What happens is I come up with my neat idea, and sit down to execute. But then I have trouble installing the software – the dependency tree is broken due to the latest push someone made to github in some low-level repo. Well fuck, that took 5 hours. Ok, now let’s actually start – what’s the simplest thing I can think of…

        3 iterations of making the simplest thing I can think of simpler, and I say “ok, hello world. You are going to print hello world to the command line and you are going to like it motherfucker!”

        Fail at printing hello world. After another 5 hours of scrolling through message boards and looking at config files and reading error messages, it turns out an environment variable was set on my machine from a completely different program that was messing things up.

        “Ok, *now* hello world…. it works! Ok, so I just want to do X – that should be easy, right?”

        After scrolling through documentation on the language/framework/whatever, I still haven’t figured out how to do X. At which point, I say “screw it” and go drinking with friends instead.

        On the other hand, the times when I’ve been successful at learning software, it’s because I sat down with a good book or tutorial that said “this thing is here. This other thing is over here. Here’s an example of how to do this common task. This is the rational behind structuring it this way.” And then I do some exercises and learn the syntax and get everything set up correctly *and then* I can try to do something useful.

    • Aapje says:

      The way things work, getting good pay for half the hours is not very common. Also, the kind of fun jobs you seek are typically extremely competitive (not necessarily in quality, but then in politics, connections, etc) and/or pay fairly poorly because lots of people want a fun job. Furthermore, nearly any job is only one part the good stuff and another big part unpleasantness.

      So I think that you have unrealistic expectations.

      Consider giving up on the idea of having a super-interesting job and instead, find something that pays decently and you are good enough at. Then use that money for things you enjoy (travel, having a family, hobbies, drugs, etc).

      • leadbelly says:

        Thanks. I did mean well paid relatively – I am not expecting to earn as much half time as a good full time job pays.

        You’re right, I know I am unlikely to get an ‘interesting’ job and that they come with their own downsides. But full time full boredom I don’t know if I can cope with. If I could work 9 months of the year or something…

        • Murphy says:

          There’s quite a few “50%” jobs in research.

          In practice a lot of researchers get their salary through 2 grants that cover 50% of their salary each. I think it’s a bizare way to arrange things since it means a lot of researchers have to spend twice the time chasing their salary but for your goal it might not be a bad thing.

          Research has an advantage on the “interesting” front and if you don’t mind a half salary in exchange for a 2 1/2 day week then it might be a viable option.

          Some people do it for work-life balance and family commitments.

          So in essence someone might start a job in research, work a few years of normal 40 hour weeks and then basically stop renewing one of their grants and go to 2.5 days a week.

          Though most don’t want to take that salary hit.

          Downside: academic research doesn’t tend to be crazy-high pay but if your cost of living is low and you aren’t looking for an expensive lifestyle then it might be acceptable to you.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        +1. Work to live, don’t live to work.

    • a real dog says:

      Getting paid decent money for, say, 3/5 of full time is possible. Even more so with remote work, where often nobody cares how much time you spend as long as things get done. Current slacker success stories from my bubble:
      – small-scale IT/sysadmin friend, getting odd jobs from a bigger “consulting” company
      – another friend – a freelancer for a company issuing a transport/logistics periodical (the kind read by industry insiders, full of analyses, articles about new tech etc) and organizing conferences for that industry
      – myself, doing driver programming in a niche field

      All of us make comfortable living without much effort, probably my hours / day is highest but it averages out to 2-3h of productive work and maybe 30-60 min of meetings, emails and slack conversations.

      One thing to note is that you usually get this kind of arrangement by starting in a full-time position, proving your worth, and downscaling your commitment because you are valuable to the company and they’d rather give you more freedom than see you go. This is not possible in every company.

      On the other hand, if you’re bad with organizing your free time (which you kinda sound like from the post) maybe you’d actually want a 40+ hour/week position where you’re doing interesting and varied stuff? There’s plenty of those, in R&D departments in particular.

      BTW: getting to anything useful or interesting with python takes about a week or two if you’re intelligent and have a project that excites you. And if you plan to be adjacent to any kind of science you’ll want to learn it anyway.

    • Lodore says:

      There’s a lot of real estate north of 30, so I’m going to assume that you’re nearer to 30 than 40. Either way, it’s certainly not too old. I learned python at 39 having lied my way into an academic position by saying I could code after a year of unemployment. Well, six weeks later I could, though I wouldn’t care to repeat the experience.

      The upside for me was that having a good knowledge of coding opened up management roles where I wasn’t coding (much) but had leadership for software projects. This also had the pleasant side-effect of multiplying my income by a factor of five.

      The bad news is that there is no pain-free way to do what you want to do. The good news that the only cost is pain.

    • AG says:

      I watched a co-worker start at my site doing admin work for travel costs and such, and she basically just kept applying to any other job openings at the site, while doing a great job at her current one. She jumped from admin over to Quality manager, then Safety, and now she’s like the head of Environment/Health/Safety for the entire company, with a President as her supervisor.

      So don’t expect your entry level job to be great, ever. Use it as a springboard to bigger opportunities.

    • j1000000 says:

      Perhaps your ultimate goal might not be a particular job but personal freedom or something? Maybe you could find contentendness in pursuing the Mr. Money Mustache/FIRE path, or something similar?

    • goundo says:

      It sounds like you want early retirement. Coding could be a good path. I think one of the guys in my shop was a construction worker until he picked up coding in his 40s. Another good one could be the trades. I think it’s something like 80% of electricians in the US are over 50 or something. They get good pay that gets better with time, there’s demand, and potential to start your own business.

      I would avoid any sort of schooling that you can’t do part time, or that will take more than 2 years to complete full time. I would avoid trying for fields that seem particularly “cool” (don’t try to be a Hollywood actor, for instance). Just look for a good-paying, stable job market, and then learn the skills to compete in it.

      And *then* set your sights on the coolest, sexiest, most dream-fulfilling job in that market, and tailor your skills to be the best person for that job in the whole goddamned world. This will include gaining the relevant skills *and* proving your worth by being an effective worker in other jobs. The trick being that you might not ever get that dream job, but (a) it focuses you on the skills you need to learn, instead of having too many choices and learning nothing and (b) the experience you gain pursuing it will set you up to take on higher-paying, more comfortable, more rewarding jobs in the future.

  16. edmundgennings says:

    Given current situation, I have found myself in need of a headset primarily to play DND on my laptop. Audio quality and mic quality do not have to be great but it needs to be an improvement over laptop mic. I care about durability and to some extent comfort but am quite willing to have something that fits quite tightly on my ears to ensure stability and would prefer something in that direction and would be happy to sacrifice some amount of comfort for that. Do people have advice about either a particular model to purchase or just the relevant search terms. I have found the different models bewildering and am not sure how to judge sound quality particularly as someone who is not an audiophile.

    • ProfessorQuirrell says:

      I use the HyperX Cloud for DnD and for gaming and it works very well and is very comfortable. I had one work for hours and hours every week for a total of about six years before one of the ears gave out.

    • Incurian says:

      I’ve had my Corsair Void for a while. I like them. Good quality, durable, comfortable. Wireless but you can run it wired if you wish.

  17. theodidactus says:

    Every time I try to access the discord link I get an “invite invalid” code. I’d like to get on there…

  18. mtl1882 says:

    Is anyone able to give me a plausible explanation of what exactly went on with Obama and the investigation of Trump?

    I’m aware of the various controversies since Trump became president. But what exactly is the understanding now about how this all got started? How does Flynn fit in to this issue, exactly? And how does Russia fit in, exactly? (I mean with Flynn and Obama specifically–I don’t need a rehash of every Russia-related allegation that has come up.) I know we don’t have all the details, and I know there are various partisan interpretations of this, and conspiracy theories, but what basic things do we know, and what do they plausibly suggest? I don’t want to get into whether certain things were justified so much as why they were done in the first place and at whose instigation.

    Are people saying that they got a little drunk in on power, spied on Trump, realized it would look bad, and tried to cover it up, but it got out of control due to the intense anti-Trump feeling driving an interest in it? If yes, was Obama (or his administration) actually concerned about Trump’s foreign ties and investigating him for that reason? Or were they just investigating him because they had the power to do so and were naturally curious and wanted opposition data? Or were they trying to help the Clinton campaign?

    Or was this somehow related to Comey screwing things up with relation to Hillary and then trying to distract from it? Or was Obama actually trying to derail the Trump presidency in advance because he thought Trump was particularly bad news or was resentful about the surprise Clinton loss?

    It’s obvious that some in the bureaucracy were not going to accept Trump, and that things rapidly escalated after Trump took office among various officials, but Obama’s apparent involvement prior to leaving office strikes me as a very different matter. I’m confused.

    • theodidactus says:

      I think you are going to have a very hard time getting straight answers on this from either side, especially since several of the underlying facts are not known (or frankly knowable).

      Some general facts about this kind of situation not all of which may apply to this situation:

      * It’s generally a fools errand to objectively discuss whether an investigation into anything (government corruption, drugs, illegal gambling, etc) is “justified.” In part this is because who “starts” the initiation is often unknown, or part of a grand causal chain that runs everywhere in the same way that every story is (so where does it begin? When some FBI agent’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss grumbled “I don’t like Trump” at a staff meeting? When Trump announced his candidacy? When Trump was first accused of financial creativity in the 90s? The first guy that thought “I’ll investigate Trump” back in 1987?). Also, given that almost no human motive is pure, especially any human with power, it’s easy to say ‘but for illicit motivation x, y would not have happened.” This is the reason why, in general, things like § 1001 or 4th amendment suppression arguments or criminal trials writ large rarely turn on the “legitimate basis” for the underlying investigation.

      * It’s always worth asking “why not both”/”why not all”, especially since human motivations are complicated.

      * We don’t know anything, we probably never will. There are fewer and fewer situations where actors are forced to commit or stipulate to facts, or give straight answers publicly. Blame whoever you want for that, you’re right. A few months back I posed a few hypotheticals that attempted to illustrate the difficulties involved in knowing anything with any kind of certainty in the current environment, as it pertains to the executive branch. As an illustration of the inherent complexity of this analysis, see my comment here, which at that point pertained to the Trump administration, but for the purposes of your question would pertain to the Obama administration.

      • mtl1882 says:

        It’s generally a fools errand to objectively discuss whether an investigation into anything (government corruption, drugs, illegal gambling, etc) is “justified.”

        100% agree–that’s why I said I didn’t want to get into it!

        And when I say I want to know why, I don’t mean I want a great answer. Yes, simply rubbing someone in the FBI the wrong way can be the start of some major investigation, and that’s the whole story. It’s not odd to me that someone in the the FBI was curious about Trump at any time in the past. But I’m asking for an explanation of Obama’s involvement.

        * It’s always worth asking “why not both”/”why not all”, especially since human motivations are complicated.

        Absolutely, this should be kept in mind. But I doubt in this case all of them were true, or anywhere near equally significant. I’m sure partisanship played a role in any of the possible situations, but that can mean very different things. Was this all sort of predictable political intrigue during the campaign, when no one thought Trump would win, that was hard to explain away with all the drama surrounding Trump’s presidency, and turned into a kind of absurd series of cover ups? Or was there something more strategic going on? I don’t get what Obama’s issue with Flynn is, and it seems to be a pretty big issue.

        We don’t know anything, we probably never will. There are fewer and fewer situations where actors are forced to commit or stipulate to facts, or give straight answers publicly. Blame whoever you want for that, you’re right. A few months back I posed a few hypotheticals that attempted to illustrate the difficulties involved in knowing anything with any kind of certainty in the current environment, as it pertains to the executive branch

        Also a good point about many such situations, but I do think there are some things we can know here. I’m not looking for a bulletproof story, just a plausible take on what happened. Guess I’ll try and piece it together.

        • broblawsky says:

          I don’t get what Obama’s issue with Flynn is, and it seems to be a pretty big issue.

          Flynn was almost certainly getting paid by Erdogan to facilitate some kind of kidnapping attempt on Fethullah Gulen.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Pretty sure Obama’s issues with him predate this by quite a bit. It seems obvious that Flynn is perceived as kind of erratic and noncompliant by the standards of the Washington consensus, so that may be enough to explain it, along with his views on foreign policy being incompatible with Obama’s. He apparently thought Obama’s Middle East policy was bad and wanted to cooperate with Russia in Syria, which was an unpopular view. He definitely has his enemies, so Obama finding him aggravating and having a few shouting matches with him could have been enough to explain this aspect. Still think the recently leaked tape where Obama acts appalled at his acquittal is absurd and not something I expected from Obama, which is why I was wondering.

            The kidnapping is perhaps one of the “crazy ideas” that he is known for, but to be fair, I don’t think the article establishes anything like he was “almost certainly getting paid by Erdogan to facilitate some kind of kidnapping attempt.” It strongly insinuates that Erdogan may have been willing to offer him money to do so, but he was clearly paid to discuss options, and at some point kidnapping came up. It doesn’t sound like anything more than discussion happened, let alone a deal. And I’m not sure that this is the sort of thing that would appall Obama, either, but I don’t know enough of the context. (Not saying he’d cheer it on, just that he isn’t naive about these sorts of things and in his position knows people who do a lot of shady things.)

          • Controls Freak says:

            Flynn was almost certainly getting paid by Erdogan to facilitate some kind of kidnapping attempt on Fethullah Gulen.

            Can you offer a hypothesis why, if this is really as true as you portray it to be in the way you portray it (and would be an incredibly serious crime), it wasn’t charged or any part of the plea deal?

          • theodidactus says:

            “Charged” is pretty easy to explain. They’re not going to charge something they can’t prove, and as I’ve emphasized above, its diabolically hard to get anything like “proof” in these situations.

            The plea deal is more complicated. My personal working theory (I pledged at the outset that I wouldn’t get into my own theories but oh well) is that once they had a straightforward crime, indeed committed, they decided not to bog things down by going down rabbit holes. Tack a charge to the guy. Clean headshot. Happens all the time in federal cases.

            One really important phenomenon that has come out of Flynn and Stone is that the routine practices of federal law enforcement are (finally) getting questioned at every turn because they look shady as heck. Some unqualified good that *might* come out of this is a more scrupulous DOJ and FBI, but I worry this special rigor is unique to both offenders.

          • Controls Freak says:

            they decided not to bog things down by going down rabbit holes. Tack a charge to the guy. Clean headshot. Happens all the time in federal cases.

            This makes no sense to me. A crime that is massively bigger and more important than anything else they’ve got certainly doesn’t seem like “going down rabbit holes”. It would be as if they got a whiff of Paul Manafort’s tax evasion and bank fraud and thought, “Nah, we don’t want to go down that rabbit hole; we can get him on 1001.” Asking for 0-6 months for 1001 is soooooo far from a “clean headshot” if you actually have him literally getting paid by a foreign head of state to attempt literal kidnapping of a political dissident on US soil.

          • theodidactus says:

            Well but the issue is precisely what you mean by “have him?” Have him on tape? Sure they’d do right ahead and do that. “Have him” in the sense that all his actions, known and rumored, add up to the clear conclusion that he’s doing that…not so. This is especially true because reality adds messy factors that complicate everything: is he really earnestly going ahead with the kidnapping or is he just telling people that so he can get money? Is the whole operation a double/triple/quadruple play and he’s really just going along with it to gather intelligence? Is the guy who told you about the guy who told you about this just shining you on? Does he have some legitimate basis for doing this? (And in case that last one sounds ridiculous just think about how hard it is to meaningfully discuss “legitimate basis” these days).

            A prosecutor can do a lot of institutional credibility damage by bringing a charge they cannot prove, and dropping something like that out of thin air could easily torpedo a plea deal. If you can get a win,you take it.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Well but the issue is precisely what you mean by “have him?”

            I think this is the right question, and it’s the one that I want broblawsky to answer. If he thinks they have extremely good information (“almost certainly”), then it remains to be explained why they didn’t charge it. If the level of evidence is much lower, then perhaps we should rethink how we understand his words about “almost certainly”. So far, in the documents I’ve read, I’ve seen no indication that they even had an open investigation on this matter, much less that the factual record was developed enough that it was something that a prosecutor was even considering. The conversation was reported to have happened in the summer of 2016. The documents we have now about the genesis of the investigation of Flynn, the almost closing, the transference to Mueller’s shop, and the ultimate plea deal show no indication of this being anything they were even looking into. (Remember, we’re in the phase of the flip flop where everyone who is against Trump is rushing to remind the world how extremely low the predication requirement is for starting an investigation, yet we have no indication from any of these documents that they even had that extremely low level of predication.) The plea deal does reference Turkey, but only WRT a March 2017 FARA filing concerning “improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey” and an op-ed.

            So, let me actually go one further. If he “almost certainly” committed this extremely serious crime, why does it never show up in any of the official documents we have from all of the significant investigations surrounding him? Not even at the level of predication, much less as part of a plea deal? If they’re even trying to hang over his head, “We might not win, but we can make your life hell by prosecuting a borderline case on this issue (on which you have massive criminal exposure) if you don’t plead to this other thing,” it would show up somewhere. (The answer may be, “I think that maybe it was opened up separately in some document we don’t have access to yet,” but I want to know if there are any better theories.)

          • theodidactus says:

            we’re in the phase of the flip flop where everyone who is against Trump is rushing to remind the world how extremely low the predication requirement is for starting an investigation, yet we have no indication from any of these documents that they even had that extremely low level of predication

            I’m just going to focus on this part, because I think it will go a long way toward explaining why bob can talk in “almost certainlies” and other people can be rightly skeptical and ultimately, we never touch bottom to something “hard.”

            So to be abundantly clear: there is no concrete predication requirement, just the extremely fuzzy jimmeny-cricket-style one that’s in each of our hearts and says its rude to poke into other people’s business without good reason. This is because, in the preliminary phases of any investigation (especially one like this) it’s just gonna be “people are saying.” (IE “people are saying he had a meeting and at that meeting he said”…or even a step farther “People are saying he had a meeting with people that other people are saying want to do this.”). Tragically, for everyone involved, with these investigations its often quite hard to get beyond “people are saying”…you might find nice pieces of paper with everything written on them, but those pieces of paper are just going to say “people are saying [x]”

            I’m not sure what Bob’s ultimately gonna say, but it’s likely going to match what’s stated here: https://thehill.com/policy/defense/421780-turkey-and-michael-flynn-five-things-to-know

            Which looks pretty damning but of course it’s just stuff people said happened.

            EDITS: concerning predication

          • Deiseach says:

            Still think the recently leaked tape where Obama acts appalled at his acquittal is absurd and not something I expected from Obama

            Haven’t seen that one, but with the Tara Reade accusation, however much it is being softpedalled in the media, and with the perceived lack of support for his former VP’s campaign by Obama, this strikes me as precisely the kind of deliberate leaking I’d expect.

            Obama is/was a career politician, he’s not loud and flashy, doing a “high minded from the moral high ground oh how appalling that a Trump crony is exonerated on dubious grounds” signal to help deflect any heat from Biden is the kind of low-key, unobvious support for the Democratic nominee I’d expect – not coming out and going “Vote for Joe!” (that kind of stumping will come much later, if it comes at all) but “look at all the mud sticking to Trump!” subtle comparison.

          • theodidactus says:

            I had not considered the possibility of a deliberate leak but that strikes me as a perfectly plausible theory.

          • mtl1882 says:

            As I said in my initial reply, I don’t think anyone can say he was “almost certainly getting paid by Erdogan to facilitate some kind of kidnapping attempt.” Maybe Erdogan was trying to assess his willingness, but there’s no claim any deal resulted. He was being paid as a consultant to discuss options of some sort. At best, you could say he almost certainly discussed it, which isn’t the same as seriously considering it, advising it, or bringing it up in the first place. I wouldn’t expect criminal charges because there doesn’t appear to be any evidence he agreed to do anything illegal with regard to this, let alone went through with it, and I’m pretty sure that kind of consulting is legal. There seems to be a belief that no one is ever allowed to talk to foreign governments or those connected to them. There are certain restrictions and declarations depending on one’s position, but I’m pretty sure consulting for foreign governments is a normal second career.

            Agreed that the Obama thing was a deliberate leak, probably to pump up the faithful in a low-key way, but this just seems so forced, dramatic, and weak.

          • theodidactus says:

            Let me offer a parable.

            My friend comes to me one day, in tears, and explains that her husband Raymond is cheating on her. This is step one. At step one, am I “almost certain” that Raymond is cheating on my friend? I am. I trust my friend, she’s crying, she does not make such accusations lightly. I assume she can prove what she says.

            But perhaps I’m a gullible fool…and after all, I do know Raymond. He’s no monster. So we go on to step two. I ask my friend “How do you know?”

            She offers up five facts
            * Raymond told her he was going to have to work late on Tuesday. He did not come home until 3 A.M.
            * Raymond’s credit card shows he paid for 2 meals, 2 drinks, and 1 dessert on Tuesday night.
            * Anthony says he saw Raymond at a motel on Tuesday night.
            * Dallas says Raymond was bragging about cheating on his wife in a bar just this afternoon
            * There is a cell phone video of Raymond, seated at a bar on Tuesday night. In the video, Raymond tells the whole bar that he’s a “swinging bachelor.” Raymond is not wearing his wedding ring.

            Am I now “almost certain” that Raymond is cheating on my friend? The question isn’t “can I imagine a scenario in which Raymond is innocent?” of course I can. Maybe Anthony and Dallas are lying. Maybe Anthony and Dallas aren’t lying and there’s a totally innocent explanation for both behaviors. Maybe Raymond is messing around in the video. Maybe he took a client out to dinner. Maybe he was thinking about cheating and backed out at the very last second. We have no “hard evidence”, let alone “proof”…but damn the man anyway. I’m nearly certain he’s cheating on my friend, and we ought to act accordingly: At the very least, my friend should ask him for more information, perhaps in a way that doesn’t look like an outright grilling, so he doesn’t put his guard up.

            The five facts lead me to a conclusion (and advice) by way of my internal, highly personal, assessment of the credibility of various actors and my understanding of what does and doesn’t look like “normal” behavior. It’s very hard to escape a situation where this is how we draw conclusions.

        • mtl1882 says:

          Obama is/was a career politician, he’s not loud and flashy, doing a “high minded from the moral high ground oh how appalling that a Trump crony is exonerated on dubious grounds” signal to help deflect any heat from Biden is the kind of low-key, unobvious support for the Democratic nominee I’d expect – not coming out and going “Vote for Joe!” (that kind of stumping will come much later, if it comes at all) but “look at all the mud sticking to Trump!” subtle comparison.

          To clarify on this, I agree with you that this general approach is one Obama might take. But Flynn wasn’t charged with perjury, and Obama definitely knows that (and that it’s not unusual to fail to bring perjury charges or dismiss charges relating to Flynn’s actual crime, lying to the FBI.) There are several points in the record at which Obama’s legal judgment seems to go missing when he talks about Flynn. I thought this was out-of-context paraphrasing or simple gossip, but here we know exactly what Obama said, and I find it highly suspicious. Yes, maybe he was making it easier for laypeople to follow, or just misspoke. But this was a clip he wanted out there, and I just don’t buy it. He’s a careful speaker, and it was an odd thing to focus on. I don’t believe he thinks the rule of law is collapsing due to the Flynn case. The other comments about longterm bipartisan trends in American politics echo earlier concerns he has expressed, and ring a lot truer.

          The five facts lead me to a conclusion (and advice) by way of my internal, highly personal, assessment of the credibility of various actors and my understanding of what does and doesn’t look like “normal” behavior. It’s very hard to escape a situation where this is how we draw conclusions.

          I agree with the point you make here, but the example you does not seem like a very good analogy to what happened with Flynn. In fairness, I was only basing my argument on the WSJ article originally linked, and the second link has more detail. But still, it looks like Flynn was hired by Erdogan associates to use his influence to convince the administration to turn Gulen over, and to turn the public against Gulen. I can see why people find this very bad, but it is not the same as being paid to kidnap him. We have no evidence of such a plan, as far as I know. It might have come up in conversation as Erdogan grew frustrated that there were no “legal” options, but there’s no good reason to think Flynn committed to doing it and was paid for his commitment. I think it is fair to say it is almost certain Flynn did shady stuff on behalf of the Turkish government, but not that he was paid to facilitate a literal kidnapping.

          • theodidactus says:

            The evidence provided by my five facts is perfectly consistent with Raymond wanting to cheat on his wife, then backing out at the last minute. It’s also perfectly consistent with him trying to cheat and failing, hoping to cheat and getting nowhere, thinking about cheating but not acting on it, and grinding away the hours at work, taking a client to dinner, and dropping her off at a motel. Also, by my facts above we have no idea whether or not my friend and Raymond have an open relationship. Who’s to say?

            Recall that when we’re discussing the early phases of an investigation, or allegations of misconduct, or the behavior of remote actors whose true motives we can never know for certain, we’re not talking about whether known behaviors are themselves a crime (you can always, always, always excuse behaviors with additional facts, even a smoking gun proves nothing if both parties reached for it). We’re talking about whether it’s fair to assume certain behaviors might constitute a crime. (and edit for what It’s worth I don’t think Bob is discussing literal kidnapping in the strictly legal sense…how could that be discussed? Kidnapping is something that has to be met element-by-element, then charged and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We’ll never know enough to do that. I think Bob’s discussing this in the dictionary sense of “taking someone from where they live and holding them somewhere else against their will”).

            Five facts:
            * certain parties wanted Gulen literally kidnapped (in every sense of the word)
            * those parties actively explored means of illegally carrying out this kidnapping. They also explored means of influencing politicians to carry out basically the same thing semi-legally (through extradition, then kidnapping)
            * Flynn took money from those parties
            * Flynn lied about his knowledge of where the money came from
            * the parties who paid flynn seem to assume Flynn was helping them in their efforts to obtain Gulen
            * Flynn did lots of stuff that made it easier for those parties to literally kidnap gulen, or extradite him in all manner of creative ways, *then* kidnap him

            If Flynn’s my friend, I’m gonna need a lot more. If Raymond’s my friend, I’m likewise gonna need a lot more. The question is how many fair ways there are there to connect the dots.

            EDIT: Added a sixth fact, also some stuff about kidnapping

          • mtl1882 says:

            @theodidactus

            I get what you’re saying and agree with it. I guess where I see a difference is that if I saw Flynn go into a room with a woman, I’d probably guess he was hooking up with her. If I saw Flynn meeting with Erdogan associates, I’d believe he was offering to use his knowledge, connections, and influence to help them get their way with something. Many of these things would be shady, but my guess is they go to someone like him for help with political pressure and contacts, not kidnapping logistics. But there very few situations in which I would consider that the likely reason for meeting with someone to orchestrate a kidnapping, unless Flynn was known to be some sort of hitman-type figure, or had a history of kidnapping, or was assigned to coordinate an authorized kidnapping mission for his own country while working in intelligence. Or if the kidnapping had actually occurred shortly after the meeting and Flynn had no other explanation for being there, as well as possible connections to the kidnapping.

            Had this man actually been kidnapped by Erdogan as part of a plot in which Flynn was involved, it would have been investigated, and it would have been a huge risk for Flynn in terms of major criminal charges. All the other stuff is much lower risk, most not even criminal, even though it ended up being used against him to get the lying to the FBI conviction. I’m pretty sure he knew he was being watched closely enough that he couldn’t pull that off. It just strikes me as unlikely that if they decided to make a move with outright kidnapping, they’d be using Flynn. I’m even not saying Flynn was above participating if they had. There’s just no evidence they actually made a plot to kidnap him. And I don’t think getting him extradited counts as kidnapping, even if he knows it will end badly. It would be morally objectionable, of course, but not a crime.

            This all assumes that the articles quoted are essentially based in reality, of course. As you say, we’ll never know exactly what conclusions are the correct ones to draw from a story like this. Based on my reading today, I should add that this story may well be mostly nonsense. For whatever reason, there have been truly bizarre press attacks on Flynn, and I’d take almost nothing in good faith at this point. I have no doubt Flynn has done some shady things in his life, but I think there’s been some major disinformation involved lately. Matt Taibbi wrote up some really good stuff on the weird reporting surrounding Flynn, including here.

            I’ll drop this subject shortly, but look at the WSJ article.

            James Woolsey, ex-CIA, who makes all these allegations, goes there as part of Flynn’s team. He doesn’t seem to have had any hesitations going to this meeting, and doesn’t explain what he thought it was for. Woolsey says he arrived “in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.” This topic was, in his words, getting Gulen “to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process.”

            I mean, what exactly was being proposed here that is only “possibly illegal”? The whole thing is very vague. They never say “by force.” Was it by false pretenses? The WSJ says others at the meeting support this account, but gives no more detail than that the idea was to take Gulen from the U.S. to Turkey, and that “The Turkish ministers were interested in open-ended thinking on the subject, and the ideas were raised hypothetically…” What?!? “Open-ended thinking.” This just sounds like trying to make something sound more sinister than it is.

            Later in the article, you can see this turns out to relate to Syria, which was apparently the major point of contention between Flynn, Obama, and the establishment in general.

            Mr. Woolsey said the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” The discussion, he said, didn’t include actual tactics for removing Mr. Gulen from his U.S. home. If specific plans had been discussed, Mr. Woolsey said, he would have spoken up and questioned their legality. It isn’t known who raised the idea or what Mr. Flynn concluded about it.

            Was that literally the entire hypothetical — “what if we showed up at night and ‘whisked’ him away?” That’s what Woolsey seems to be saying, while also saying there was no suggestion of force being used somehow. You don’t need consultants to come up with the idea of going to his house–you’d need them for the next part, getting him to Turkey. But apparently literally nothing was said about what would happen next, or even the most basic approach to getting hold of him. This is just a totally unnatural account. “It seemed to be naive,” Mr. Woolsey said about the discussion. “I didn’t put a lot of credibility in it.” This truly reads to me like Woolsey was pressured by the FBI to say something against Flynn, but isn’t willing to actually lie, so he is pretending that things which were essentially jokes or non-literal suggestions were baffling to him–I just stumbled in and heard this crazy remark – why didn’t Flynn know that this was illegal? Guess he is kind of credulous! I almost had to step in and remind him there might be legal concerns here, but fortunately they moved on!

            Woolsey seems to suggest that this topic was totally unexpected for him, and it is possible he thought he was there for what Flynn claimed was the actual purpose of the meeting, but The Hill article shows how shady the Inovo company that hired him sounds, so I don’t know what to make of that. But this really may have been nothing more than a joking reference to Turkey’s troubles with Gulen during a meeting mostly about something entirely different. It does sound like he tried to hide the fact that he was working on Turkey’s behalf, but then, shortly after, he wrote an op-ed defending Erdogan and going after Gulen, allegedly prompting the whole investigation. So he certainly wasn’t keeping a low profile! And I don’t understand the contents of the indictment of the Inovo guys–I get the failing to register thing, but it’s a crime to influence public opinion? Flynn had authority to make criminal referrals to someone? I find the press coverage here the most newsworthy aspect.

    • Controls Freak says:

      I’m not aware of any evidence yet of Obama’s personal involvement with the Flynn case. There is evidence in the recently-released documents that some White House officials were directly in the loop with the FBI, but Obama, himself, doesn’t make an appearance.

      The closest involvement I’ve see in the documents comes from the IG report on Crossfire Hurricane. To set the stage, they got the Papadopoulos information. They had to figure out what to do with it. They could give the Trump campaign defensive briefings in order to warn them that the Russians might be tryna fux with stuff. Or, they could try to quietly investigate it. In a decision that is defensible in the abstract (and defensible/not defensible in the concrete probably depending upon your opinion of the quality of the information they had at the time), they decided, “If there is a Russian agent working in the Trump campaign, then giving them a defensive briefing might alert the Russians, and they could change their operations, so we’re going to do investigations instead of briefings.”

      Their predication for Flynn was probably the weakest. There was nothing direct identifying him as being involved with anything untoward or related. It was really just, “He’s an adviser to the Trump campaign, has various ties to state-affiliated entities of Russia, and traveled to Russia in 2015.” Extremely light predication. And a first, they took extremely light steps, which probably seem reasonably proportional to the extremely light predication. They were going to close out his case until they saw that VPOTUS publicly claimed that Flynn told him something that the FBI knew wasn’t true. Currently, people are fiercely disagreeing about whether or not that justifies the FBI’s choice to interview him and then Mueller’s choice to prosecute a 1001 violation.

      Anyway, getting back to Obama, at some point in the process, the White House came knocking – “Tell us everything you’re doing about Russia.” The FBI goes to brief Obama. Apparently, here, they decide that the investigation into (the possible Russian agents in) the Trump campaign is totally separate from any ‘Russia investigation’. They don’t tell Obama about anything they’re doing concerning the investigation into Trump campaign folks. And at this moment… Obama suggests they “think about giving defensive briefings” to the Trump campaign. I would give soooo much to know what they said to him at that moment. Did they really just totally swallow their tongues? Does this entire thing brewing in the FBI just narrowly skirt by oversight from the President because he didn’t ask, “Have you considered giving defensive briefings?” or any of a number of questions that would basically require them to go into some detail about what they were up to and why they made the choices they made?? But yeah, best I can tell from the published documents, this was the closest Obama got to personally being involved.

      The whole story is a really bad look for the FBI for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons is that at multiple steps along the way, they managed to narrowly skirt oversight from either DOJ or the White House for the more controversial things that they were doing. In this story, they just barely avoided letting the White House know what they were doing. In the story about the Flynn interview, not only did they not inform DOJ until they had already sent the guys over to interview him, they didn’t work the normal process through the White House Council, either. Comey described it as “getting away with it” (note, this was in the extremely early days of the Trump administration, not still during the Obama administration). But yeah, at least through the official documents, as far as I can tell, the FBI managed to avoid any real direct involvement of Obama in the Flynn case.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is very informative and outlines what we do/don’t know. Thank you.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I’m not aware of any evidence yet of Obama’s personal involvement with the Flynn case. There is evidence in the recently-released documents that some White House officials were directly in the loop with the FBI, but Obama, himself, doesn’t make an appearance.

        Apparently there is, though. If you look on page 44, Exhibit 4, the interview with Sally Yates. According to her, she first learned about Flynn’s phone call with Ambassador Kislyak directly from Obama in the Oval Office, on January 5th. This is odd because previously we were told Flynn became interesting because the statements he gave to VP Pence were not true (about not discussing sanctions), but that didn’t come to light until January 15th when Pence was on Face the Nation. So the question is, why was Obama personally paying attention to Flynn’s private phone calls 10 days before that?

        • Controls Freak says:

          You are correct. I had misremembered. I remembered Yates being surprised in a meeting at the WH, but for some reason, I had somehow mentally binned that as, “It was a moment when someone else in the room told Obama, and Yates was caught off guard,” and I think I mentally moved the timeline around, as well. There are a lot of moving parts here, and I screwed that one up. Good catch.

          Upon rereading this section, it’s interesting that he kicked out Brennan/Clapper, because what I was referring to was on page 32 about ODNI GC Litt being the one who brought up the Logan Act and that Clapper was in the loop. It’s sort of presumed that something over here was the likely route by which Obama may have been originally informed, but I had misremembered the bit about Obama being the one to break it to Yates rather than someone else in the room.

      • Deiseach says:

        This is depressing for the sake of, well, the entirety of the rule of law and government, because that strongly leans to “The FBI was mucking about with its own agenda telling nobody and doing whatever it bloody well liked in its own sweet time” and what, was the lich of J. Edgar Hoover back in his old office running things again? Somebody somewhere at some level had to decide “yeah, we’re doing this, tell the lads I’m signing off on the overtime”.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Thank you—need to reread and digest this, but this was helpful.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Are people saying that they got a little drunk in on power, spied on Trump, realized it would look bad, and tried to cover it up, but it got out of control due to the intense anti-Trump feeling driving an interest in it? If yes, was Obama (or his administration) actually concerned about Trump’s foreign ties and investigating him for that reason? Or were they just investigating him because they had the power to do so and were naturally curious and wanted opposition data? Or were they trying to help the Clinton campaign?

      We can’t really know because we’re all looking at testimony and documents disclosed by people who, if they were up to no good, have a strong incentive to hide or obfuscate the truth. But my opinion is that a small group of people high up in the intelligence community (Brennan, Clapper, Strzok, etc) wanted to help their future boss get elected, so they used the NSA spy machine on her opponent, with the goal of either spying on campaign operations or obtaining dirt or scandalous information they could leak to the press (or do parallel construction if they found something criminal).

      They needed some kind of justification for this, and since the NSA panopticon is for spying on foreigners, their justification must involve foreigners. They look at Trump’s campaign associates to see who they can plausibly (for some value of “plausibly”) target, and go after Carter Page because he knows Russians, and the Russians are a good bogeyman. They can’t go after Trump for ties to Israel because that looks like antisemitism, and nobody would believe China, but the Russians are fair game. They get a warrant stating that Page was a knowing agent of a foreign government, with no explanation of how this could possibly be, when just months before he was the star witness in prosecuting Russian spies. This warrant gives them “two hops” collection ability, so they can now collect all of Trump’s communications since Page knows Trump.

      Hillary was supposed to win and the “investigation” would be quietly dropped. No one would ever know. But then the unthinkable happened, Trump won, this information started leaking out, and they had to double down, so we got the whole Trump-Russia conspiracy theory and investigations and Mueller and all that. Flynn is just part of this. I don’t see any evidence Obama was involved.

      Can’t prove it, but that’s my opinion.

      • broblawsky says:

        What evidence could falsify this belief?

      • Controls Freak says:

        This warrant gives them “two hops” collection ability, so they can now collect all of Trump’s communications since Page knows Trump.

        I think there are some problems with some of your other characterizations, but I want to note that this part is particularly important to get right. Traditional FISA, which requires the warrant, is about content of communications (i.e., they can listen in on your calls). It does not apply for two hops. If Carter Page talks to Person X and Person X talks to Person Y, they cannot collect the content of Person X’s communications with Person Y.

        Separately, there is an authority to collect metadata. Among the various things that USAFA did, they enshrined the two-hop (instead of three-hop) rule for this and changed the process flow a bit. FBI would have to go to the telecoms to get metadata associated with Carter Page. Then, if Carter Page called Trump, they’d have to go back (with new “reasonable articulable suspicion” associated with Trump’s identifier) and ask for Trump’s data in a separate request. This process doesn’t involve the court, so the existence of the warrant for content collection doesn’t necessarily shed light on whether they did separate metadata collection (or subsequent derivative queries).

        I could see the argument for, “Why wouldn’t they?” I can also see the argument for, “Different cases actually genuinely benefit from different tools. It makes a lot of sense to go after lots of metadata when you’re trying to pick a terrorist group out of comms network from a blob of random people in Afghanistan, but in cases like this, it’s much more important to know what they’re talking about.” If I had to guess, I’d say it’s reasonably likely they grabbed Page’s metadata, but it’s already unlikely enough that Page actually spoke directly to Trump, and I would be frankly pretty shocked if they took Trump’s number/identifier, said, “Yep, we have RAS for this,” and got his metadata, too (because, again, this has to be an affirmative step that they take; they can’t just query Carter Page, sit back, passively get Trump’s hopped metadata, and proclaim, “Oops! We didn’t really know that it was going to give us this!”).

        This is something that genuinely may have just not come out yet (help us John Durham, you’re our only hope). If it did happen, I think it would be a massive scandal, and I think it’s almost certain that Durham/Barr would declassify and expose it, because I cannot overstate how much of a political boon it would be for Trump.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Gotcha, thanks for the clarification.

          Then, if Carter Page called Trump, they’d have to go back (with new “reasonable articulable suspicion” associated with Trump’s identifier) and ask for Trump’s data in a separate request.

          But when you say “data,” you mean the contents of his communications, correct? But they wouldn’t need any sort of authorization for his metadata, so by getting the FISA warrant on Page, they would be able to see all the records of who Trump called and when, correct? Pretty useful if you’re hoping Trump was calling a mob boss or Mistress #4,723 and you’d like to tip off the press.

          Also, as an aside, I think there is an important distinction people need to make between access and authorization. They have to go back to the court for authorization to query the database for the information, but it’s not like the court is handing out passwords. If they were already someone with access to the database, they can query what they want. Now, there should be query logs of who accessed what, and if you accessed something without authorization you would be in trouble, but only if somebody’s looking.

          • Controls Freak says:

            when you say “data,” you mean the contents of his communications, correct?

            No, sorry. That’s the one spot where I slipped up and didn’t include the meta.

            by getting the FISA warrant on Page, they would be able to see all the records of who Trump called and when, correct?

            This isn’t the case. Having a FISA warrant or not having a FISA warrant is irrelevant to whether or not they can get Trump’s metadata (who he called and when).

            I see that I screwed up a second time. They don’t actually need RAS for the second hop. Ok, let me go through it slowly and try not to screw up this time. Totally without a FISA warrant, they can go to the telecoms and say, “This is Carter Page’s number. We have reasonable articulable suspicion… foreign intelligence information… mumble mumble… give us all his metadata.” Then, out of that set, they could conceivably take Trump’s number (if it’s there), go back to the telecoms and say, “We want all of this number’s metadata.” They can do all of this without a FISA warrant. And you’re correct that this could be pretty useful if you’re hoping he’s calling a mob boss or another mistress.

            Sidenote: this seems like a very strong power, and it is. However, we should note that it’s not Super Special Foreign Intelligence stuff. It’s very close to the same thing as regular subpoenas used in regular domestic criminal law enforcement (or even civil actions… or discovery in criminal trials). The standards are really low, and FISA subpoenas basically string replace “is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation” with “is relevant for foreign intelligence information”. The controversy from the Bush/Obama years was that the gov’t was just collecting all the metadata and then applying the (low) standard on individual queries and that there were no judges/grand juries in the individualized process. Whereas…

            They have to go back to the court for authorization to query the database for the information, but it’s not like the court is handing out passwords. If they were already someone with access to the database, they can query what they want.

            …now, they don’t actually have “the” database of metadata. The telecoms have the data that they keep. If the gov’t goes and gets Carter Page’s metadata, that’s all they get. That’s all they can rummage around in. They don’t physically have Trump’s metadata. They would have to find Trump’s number in Page’s metadata and then take the affirmative step of going back to the telecom with Trump’s number to say, “…and we want all of this guy’s metadata, too.” (They don’t need independent RAS for this, which is what I screwed up above, but they do need to go back with Trump’s number, specifically.) There would be a record of this document, and it would be one of the top ten hypothetical bombshells I could think of Durham dropping. (This part of FISA has actually lapsed right now; there was talk of dropping it entirely. If Durham dropped this bombshell, I have to imagine it would never come back.)

            Again, all of that is doable without a FISA warrant. The FISA warrant lets them go and collect the content of Carter Page’s communications, and that’s it. They can’t bootstrap this into the content of Trump’s communications, and they don’t need to use it to get Trump’s metadata.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Why are they going to the telecoms? Don’t they already have all this from PRISM/XKeyscore, all that? It’s already collected, they just don’t (pinky promise) look at it until they’re authorized to do so by the court.

          • Controls Freak says:

            XKEYSCORE is just back-end database software. I have no idea why anyone decided to focus any outrage on XKEYSCORE. PRISM is a collection method. So far, we’ve been talking mostly about legal process. Let me back up all the way to the beginning. First, you have legal authorities. These are parts of the statutes that authorize gov’t agencies to do stuff. Examples of commonly-discussed authorities are Traditional FISA, Section 215, and Section 702 (the names that stuck don’t always make sense). Each of these authorities has some amount of legal process involved, and methods by which they actually execute the collection.

            Traditional FISA is concerning US persons (citizens, people on American soil, and I think a couple other categories), and the gov’t has to go to FISC with probable cause that a particular person is an agent of a foreign power (and other little things), and FISC has to approve the warrant. This is what happened with Carter Page. Traditional FISA usually authorizes ongoing surveillance of communications (like a Title III wiretap warrant in regular domestic criminal law enforcement). There are some other things possible here; the exact requests are redacted; we can assume they asked for this, and it’s probably the biggest deal thing. Now, they have to implement it using some method. Warrants are just pieces of paper; they don’t execute themselves. As far as I am aware, the process of executing a Traditional FISA ongoing surveillance warrant is the same as a Title III wiretap warrant. CALEA makes sure the telecoms have the ability to wiretap their phone lines, so the gov’t takes the warrant to the telecom; the telecom turns on the wiretap and forwards the content of calls to the feds. The details of this last bit may be a bit different for internet communications (there isn’t a CALEA or uniform standard here), but the basic idea is the same. They have a warrant and Carter Page’s GMail address? They go to Google, and Google starts forwarding them his email.

            Moving on to Section 215. This is the metadata authority we’ve been talking about. The mechanism is that they take a subpoena-like piece of paper to the companies, and the companies give them the corresponding metadata. They’re allowed to collect the metadata of Americans this way. (Again, this used to be different, which might be the cause of some confusion. They used to actually collect it all in bulk and then put restrictions on querying. That changed in 2015.)

            Throwing Section 702 in the mix is what really confuses a lot of people. Section 702 is a legal authority. It authorizes the gov’t to collect both content and non-content metadata of foreigners on foreign soil (for a foreign intelligence purpose and other minor qualifiers). Foreigners on foreign soil have never had 4A protections, so they don’t have to run the individualized legal process through a judge. Things get even more confusing when talking about Section 702, because there are two different collection methods – PRISM and Upstream. We’ve finally made it to PRISM. PRISM is actually just another version of the collection methods we’ve seen above – the gov’t takes their 702-based subpoena-like piece of paper to companies, and companies give them data.

            There’s a lot of back story to why Section 702 became a thing, but you can imagine what they’re exploiting here. Especially in an internet world, tons of foreigners use products that are US-based. If TerroristA@yahoo.com sends an email to TerroristB@gmail.com, it could be the case that Terrorist A is in Afghanistan and Terrorist B is in Syria, but their communication is very possibly going through a server or two somewhere around Silicon Valley. The gov’t doesn’t have to go to Afghanistan or Syria or anywhere in between; they can just waltz down to California and have Yahoo! or Google give them the email. (One of the reasons why 702 exists is because doing this collection in the United States would have otherwise been a violation of ECPA. The existence of 702 is why many countries have started doing things like demanding data localization from the big internationals; they hate 702, because it genuinely gives US intel an advantage.)

            Anyway, quick note that the second collection method for Section 702 is called Upstream. You’ve probably heard of NSA taps at the big fiber coming into/going out of the country. This is Upstream. Upstream was meant to cover some of the gaps in PRISM, but it is significantly more difficult to do and more dangerous. The FBI isn’t allowed to use Upstream (they can use PRISM), and there are a variety of additional constraints put on Upstream that aren’t put on PRISM. But fundamentally, the legal authority that lets them collect via Upstream is still Section 702 – they have to be [doing a variety of things to try to make sure that they’re only] collecting the data of foreigners on foreign soil.

            In sum, PRISM collects a lot of stuff, but being authorized by Section 702, it’s all stuff that has been targeted to belonging to particular foreigners on foreign soil. They can’t collect Carter Page’s metadata or content data this way, because he’s a US citizen. Section 215 allows them to take Carter Page’s phone number to the telecoms and get all his metadata; if they can find Trump’s number in that trove, they can go back and ask for all the metadata associated with his number, but this is an affirmative step that would be memorialized on a piece of paper somewhere. We don’t know for sure if FBI did any of that, but we do know that they got a warrant under Traditional FISA to collect the content of his communications (but there is no method by which one can “hop” to either Trump’s data or metadata from this). XKEYSCORE is just database software and you should automatically discount the reliability of any journalistic outlet you read who claims that its existence is some massive outrage.

            …clear as mud?

      • albatross11 says:

        I mostly agree with this, except I think they intended to have dirt on both candidates. I think our surveillance / intelligence agencies are largely out of control and are a power unto themselves. This is like 100x as important as Trump’s latest follies for the long-term well-being of the US, but it gets approximately 0.01% of the coverage of Trump’s latest outrageous tweet.

    • Deiseach says:

      Is anyone able to give me a plausible explanation of what exactly went on with Obama and the investigation of Trump?

      (1) I have no idea, there have been so many wild swings at impeaching Trump and starting up investigations about him, his family, his associates, his administration members, and his dog (if he has one) that I can’t keep track of what’s going on

      (2) Purely wild speculation on my own part and probably going to sound a little boo-outgroup, not to mention tin-foil hat territory, but given that (a) there’s the suggestion Clinton’s campaign wanted Trump as the Republican nominee because they felt out of them all, he was the candidate that would do most damage to the entire Republican campaign and the easiest to beat and (b) what you say there about “they got a little drunk in on power, spied on Trump, realized it would look bad, and tried to cover it up”, there may have been a certain element of quid pro quo going on, Obama/Obama administration officials paying off internal party favours to the Clinton campaign. If Trump was going to be selected as the Republican nominee, all well and good, but then to be sure of beating him you need the kind of dirt that political campaigns like to throw at their opponents. You need something juicy for the attack ads. So having the Obama adminstration use their powers to do a little bit of official dirt-gathering, via phone tapping etc., that could be passed on to the administration-in-waiting is something I could see happening, because yeah Hillary’s record strikes me as just that corrupt when it comes to climbing the next step of the ladder.

      And then it got out of hand.

      All the above rank guessing with nothing to back it up, just impressions.

    • MisterA says:

      I mean, just to provide the actual official answer –

      The FBI found out the Russian government were actively trying to get Trump elected. This actually was borne out by all the investigations, and it wasn’t just buying Facebook ads – it is still the official position of the American intelligence community and the FBI that it was Russian intelligence that hacked the DNC and leaked their emails, and the Mueller investigation did conclude that the Russian government absolutely was acting to elect Trump; the part they couldn’t prove was the Trump campaign working with them on it.

      Meanwhile, the Australian government informed the Obama administration that the Trump campaign was trying to work with the Russian government to get dirt on Hillary. This was based on George Papadopoulos getting drunk and telling the an Australian ambassador to the the UK that it was so. You can believe this was just drunken nonsense talk by Papadopoulos, but the Australians have confirmed that it happened and that they told the US government about it.

      So we’ve got a foreign power committing crimes to interfere in an election, and we’ve got an allied government passing along intel that the campaign is in on it.

      I’ve yet to see a compelling argument that this is not a perfectly valid basis to start an investigation – even if you think everything after that is a pernicious pack of lies.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Meanwhile, the Australian government informed the Obama administration that the Trump campaign was trying to work with the Russian government to get dirt on Hillary. This was based on George Papadopoulos getting drunk and telling the an Australian ambassador to the the UK that it was so.

        No, Papadopoulos told the Australians that the Russians said they have Hillary’s emails. Not that the Trump campaign was working with them. That the Russians had Hillary’s bathroom server emails is the basic inference/joke that literally everyone lots and lots of Republicans were making.

        • MisterA says:

          Do you have a source for that? Not asking in a snarky/rhetorical way, would like to read more, the articles I was able to find are light on details of exactly what the Australians told the government.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            From Wikipedia:

            On or about May 10, 2016, at London’s Kensington Wine Rooms, Papadopoulos allegedly told the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, that Russia was in possession of emails relating to Hillary Clinton.

            I think wiki in that sentence is doing the slightly weasely thing of conflating different sets of emails. What Mifsud told him was:

            At a breakfast meeting at the Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel on April 26, 2016, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that he had information that the Russians have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, “the Russians had emails of Clinton”, “they have thousands of emails.”

            Mifsud tells Papadopoulos the Russians have “emails of Clinton,” (Page 7 of Papadopoulos’ plea) that is, Hillary’s emails. But what was hacked was emails of the DNC and John Podesta. While yes, technically Hillary’s emails would constitute “emails relating to Hillary Clinton,” they phrase it that way to make people think Papadopoulos knew about the Podesta/DNC emails before they were publicly announced in May/June.

            It also seems odd that, while the hacking is still ongoing and undiscovered, the GRU agents allegedly doing the hacking are keeping some random Maltese professor in the loop on their state secret level espionage. The more likely explanations are either 1) Mifsud was making it up or 2) he/the Russians were talking about Hillary’s bathroom server emails which were frequently in the news.

            Regardless, Papadopolous never tells Downer that the campaign is trying to get the dirt/emails from the Russians, just that the Russians have them.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Matt Taibbi wrote about this. Not sure if things have changed since, but it sounds like these things might be suspiciously competing stories rather than connected.

      • Controls Freak says:

        What does any of that have to do with Mike Flynn?

        • MisterA says:

          It’s what started the investigation in the first place, which is why they were interviewing Flynn about his meetings with the Russians, which is what he lied to the FBI about, which is what he got charged with.

          • Controls Freak says:

            It’s what started the investigation in the first place

            Correct. They were just about to close out that case, because they had extremely thin predication on this and found nothing.

            which is why they were interviewing Flynn about his meetings with the Russians

            Spell this out, because this is a major contention of his defenders. The predication specified that the investigation was about trying to figure out whether he was a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign power. They had already looked into his contacts.

            Then, he spoke with Ambassador Kislyak. Was there something in this call that was relevant to whether he was a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign power?

      • Deiseach says:

        it is still the official position of the American intelligence community and the FBI that it was Russian intelligence that hacked the DNC and leaked their emails

        I’m pretty sure I saw things about the Russians also trying to hack the RNC but not getting anywhere much, unlike the efforts to hack the DNC who made it easy for them or any hacker.

        Meanwhile, the Australian government informed the Obama administration that the Trump campaign was trying to work with the Russian government to get dirt on Hillary.

        And the Hillary campaign was working with people who were working with Russians to get dirt on Trump; the Steele Dossier juicy bits were all over the media. I don’t approve of either of these, but that seems to be the state of the art nowadays for political campaigns. If that justifies an investigation for the Trump campaign, I think that equally there should be an investigation into news entities about “Why did you publish Russian disinformation about a domestic political campaign?” What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

        I’m quite sure the Russians would be happy to interfere in elections overseas to influence them to persons/positions favourable to them, and probably did something along those lines – just like every other government which engages in something similar, remember Obama doing his pal Dave Cameron a favour by making statements on the Brexit Referendum?

    • mtl1882 says:

      Okay, I dove in, and here is the impression that I get:

      The FBI was poking around as usual, “monitoring” Trump, without a whole lot of legal justification, which I assume happens a lot. Obama naturally got updates on some of the FBI investigations, but probably wasn’t directing anything, and may not have known much about the Trump stuff. Some of the findings likely made it to the Clinton campaign, but I doubt that was the main reason they were doing it. Trump was not generally expected to win. Then he did. For various reasons, the FBI now had to do more explaining of its wide-ranging activities, and was somewhat uncomfortable with this unexpected and outsider administration coming in. So they insisted the snooping was part of necessary counterintelligence operations driven by reports about Trump’s ties to Russia, which had always been a pretext in the sense that the FBI was never seriously concerned about it, and this story got kind of out of control and became a political phenomenon, leading to an increased demand for ways to justify it. Some will dispute this last sentence, and maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t want to rehash the Russia stuff.

      A couple years earlier, Obama had fired Flynn, and it was obviously not an amicable parting. He’d also alienated many in the foreign policy community with his unpopular ideas, such as believing the threat of Assad and Putin was exaggerated and that Syrian policy was a debacle. He also has a difficult, outspoken personality that predictably pissed a lot of people off, so he left behind some powerful enemies. I don’t know exactly what happened, but Flynn seems to have made a show out of antagonizing the Obama administration after leaving, culminating in the “Lock Her Up!” chant at the RNC. (I had forgotten that Flynn was a Democrat, and that he was the one who did that!) There seems to have been very deep personal hostility between Obama and Flynn, which is why Obama told Trump not to hire him. When Trump didn’t go along, Obama and others in the administration seem to have started brainstorming ways to screw around with him and make sure he wasn’t allowed a comeback. Maybe at first this was just trash talking of the disloyal Flynn as the administration wrapped up. But the FBI was looking around for justifications of its Russia probe, and having been monitoring the generally denounced behavior of Flynn for some time, saw an opening. They realized no one from the Obama administration (or establishment generally) was going to come to his defense in the slightest, and in fact would, if not participate directly, be happy to indicate that Flynn deserved it. Basically, Obama’s involvement is probably confined to being patently eager to see Flynn crushed, even on an obvious pretext, because of an acrimonious personal and professional history we’ll probably never understand fully. Because of this and because of a desire to defeat Trump in 2020, he continues to play dumb about or indicate approval of certain Russia-related FBI shenanigans connected to Flynn, but probably didn’t direct the FBI’s questionable activities or even know much about them while president.

      Basically, the Flynn stuff has always signaled to me that the real driver here was not partisan warfare or the 2016 election specifically. It was internal establishment/FBI intrigue that was coming to the surface as a result of the election aftermath, and which became related with it in complex ways. Matt Taibbi wrote up some really good stuff on the shadiness surrounding Flynn, including here. Even if he lied to the FBI, there was just a lot of weirdness there that needed to be explained.

      • Deiseach says:

        Great, so the whole mess was a combination of “state agencies operating their own little fiefs with no oversight from their ostensible superiors, spying and gathering dirt just because they wanted leverage/revenge on perceived opponents, enemies and persons of interest, and just because they could” plus “personal beef with guy who pissed off Obama and others in the adminstration who then looked for ways to fuck him over”? What a way to run a country!

        I begin to see the appeal of conspiracy theories; it’s somehow more psychologically reassuring if there is “the Boss wanted this done and set his dogs loose to do it” explanation rather than “doesn’t matter who’s in charge nominally, we’re gonna do what we want and fuck the law, fuck the administration, and fuck the public”. Because with the first, there’s some hope of redress or prevention; with the second, if the actual President had no idea what was going on and information was being kept from him, then the entire set-up is screwed and needs to be eradicated root and branch, which will mean so much tearing-up that it will badly affect the entire structure in a wide-ranging way (does the FBI need to be scrapped altogether? do you need or want a replacement agency? how then do you manage federal-level law enforcement?).

        • cassander says:

          (does the FBI need to be scrapped altogether? do you need or want a replacement agency? how then do you manage federal-level law enforcement?).

          it can be done.

          • albatross11 says:

            My prediction is that we will not get control of our intelligence agencies at this point, and as a result, they will remain a persistent risk to anything like democratic government until someone with very anti-democratic intentions takes them over and uses them to hold power indefinitely.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I begin to see the appeal of conspiracy theories; it’s somehow more psychologically reassuring if there is “the Boss wanted this done and set his dogs loose to do it”

          Yes, exactly. Conspiracy theories in some ways make things simpler as well as complex. They tend to have very defined major interests and objectives they can point to as being served by the behavior. In real life, things are usually more personally or internally driven. And it’s systemic so you can’t really “fix” it beyond a certain point, especially as organizations get bigger and more powerful. While I think it is unlikely we’ll get rid of the FBI, it seems that this is just how it has behaved from the beginning. The nature of such an organization lends itself to creating scandals as much as uncovering them. It’s never going to be good about respecting boundaries, especially with modern technology and current levels of power. It’s easily turned into a political weapon, but not in the neat partisan way people want to believe.

          Who the FBI chooses to target often involves a lot of strategy not directly proportional to wrongdoing, and this needs to be kept in mind when evaluating what is really going on. They’re always flipping people by using plea deals for crimes unrelated to the investigation or whatever. That’s legal, but it’s hardly something to be taken at face value. You have to look at why they’re doing it. It looks like they vaguely threatened to go after Flynn’s son to get him to fold–I really dislike that sort of thing. Of course, many FBI targets are guilty of something or did bad things, but that there is legal justification doesn’t excuse lack of basic curiosity when there’s clearly more to it.

          ETA: And I really think the Russia stuff took on a life of its own in some ways, so that the function of claims about Russia early on may have been different than that of those made later, though people reconcile them and put them together as a clean story.

  19. I recently read a piece that offered evidence that previous calculations on the progress of Covid were mistaken, and an explanation of why. The evidence was the case of Sweden, specifically Stockholm County. By their antibody survey, 17% of the population would have been infected by 11 April, rising to 25% by 1 May 2020. Both figures are far below estimates of herd immunity, yet number of new cases was nearly flat starting about April 5th, started declining about May 1st.

    The explanation offered is that individuals differ in how easily they get the disease. I haven’t worked through the details of the model the piece offers, but I think the basic logic is pretty clear. The people who get the disease early will tend to be those most easily infected, whether for biological or behavioral reasons, and initial estimates of R will be based on them. But as the number who have been infected increases, the population of those not yet infected becomes less and less sensitive, since the most sensitive people are being removed from it.

    You get herd immunity sooner than you would calculate if you assumed everyone identical, because R is getting lower due to the change in the composition of the not yet infected population. If the Swedish antibody data are correct, and if we interpret the decline in number of cases to reaching and passing herd immunity, then herd immunity was reached at something between 17% and 25% of the population having been infected not, as initial calculations implied, at something over 80%.

    If that is right, then the U.S. and U.K. have been badly overreacting and the Imperial College calculation of the deaths by letting it run to herd immunity were high by a factor of three to five.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Harumph. I claim priority.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      It takes hundreds of comments for someone to point out heterogeneity.

      You get herd immunity sooner than you would calculate if you assumed everyone identical

      Yes:

      https://twitter.com/NateSilver538/status/1258085658117242880

      Most models suggest heterogeneity *lowers* the nationwide herd immunity threshold, although there are fierce debates about whether this is a meaningful effect or a negligible one.

      (with links to some citations)

      Nate has also pointed out that “herd immunity” is already visible for the infection rate in Sweden. If each person normally infects 1.4, but 30% are already infected, that is going to make the actual infection rate drop below 1 (assuming heterogeneity). But before you think we can just do that,

      1) it means a half-million dead Americans to get to that point
      2) being at that point does not mean the pandemic is over.

      The R_0 if people are just going to church and basketball games and licking toilets on airplanes like normal is 2 or 3. If the “natural” R_0 is 2.5 but 30% of people are infected, it means you have an R_0 of roughly 1.75, which is enough for the number of cases to grow by about 22x in a month.

    • Chalid says:

      Yeah that idea is I think reasonably well-known. I remember discussing essentially this idea with a friend in I think mid March, and it wasn’t original to me – I think I saw it on Twitter originally. A minute with google will turn up literature on heterogeneity such as this paper from 1984 discussing similar issues.

      However, I don’t think it’s easy to know how much the heterogeneity in the population lowers R0. After all that requires modelling the relevant heterogeneities in the population, and we don’t know what they are, since we still (amazingly, disappointingly) don’t have a good handle on how the virus is usually spreading.

      • However, I don’t think it’s easy to know how much the heterogeneity in the population lowers R0.

        I agree. My first reaction reading the piece was that lowering the requirement for herd immunity from over 80% infected to more like 20% seemed too big an effect.

        But then I thought about it and realized that there was no theoretical limit to how big the effect could be, depending on how inhomogeneous the population was. If, to take an extreme case, 10% of the population were very vulnerable and everyone else immune, you could get a high R at the beginning as it burned through the 10% but herd immunity would happen at something below 10%.

        So it comes down to data. If the article is right about the Swedish data it suggest that, with Swedish behavior — social distancing but no lockdown — herd immunity happens at about 20%.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Heterogenity doesn’t lower R0, which is sort of the point. R0 is the expected number of people infected by an infected person, among a 100% vulnerable population. Which means that R0 is an average, and heterogenity will definitely exist. If it doesn’t, then 1-1/R0 is the formula for how many need to be immune for herd immunity.

          But R0 is an average and we know that there are superspreaders who are pushing up the average. So for example:

          Suppose you had a population of a town of 10,000 people where R0 is 3. (You assume it is 3 because your disease went through a very similar town and the first 100 people infected 300, then those 300 infected 900.) In this town, 90% are extreme introverts working from home, and 5% go to the big church every sunday and socialize, and 5% go to the night club. If you infect a church goer or a night clubber they will infect 25 other people each. Because R0 is an average, we calculate that the introverts will infect .56 people each.

          Now you start infecting people: the church goers pretty quickly spread the disease among themselves, and the same with the night clubbers. Pretty soon they are all immune, after two or three rounds of transmission. Meanwhile, the introverts have been getting a few infections but haven’t passed them on much.

          Once your church goers and nightclubbers are immune, your effective reproduction rate is less than .56 and you have herd immunity with maybe 12% of the population having ever had the infection. Whereas a naive 1-1/R0 formula tells you that you need 66% of the population immune for herd immunity.

    • zoozoc says:

      Aren’t we missing the social element in all of this? Meaning that even though Sweden might have very few governmental/top-down restrictions, people are implementing their own restrictions (aka bottom-up). So that is lowering the transmission rate by a fair amount. So temporarily the “herd immunity” threshold is much lower. But once people stop changing their behavior (and this will probably be a gradual thing and perhaps behavior will change semi-permanently), then infection rate will increase, or perhaps simply not decrease as one would expect. Someone already made the point below and someone else posted an equation for the “total” number of cases, but just because herd immunity is decreasing transmission does not mean transmission stops. I believe it will definitely be a “slow burn” with potential for flare-ups.

    • Murphy says:

      Some of the closed populations like that korean cult and some of the cruise ships should give us a fair idea of how much of the population have some resistance.

      Keep in mind, in epidemiology, anything that makes you less likely to pick up a disease counts as a protective factor. But that doesn’t mean they’re static.

      So if a large chunk of the population react to the outbreak by isolating themselves then they look like a resistant chunk of the population.

      But if people start going on TV shouting “crisis over, herd immunity achieved!” and that same group start coming out and socialising again then suddenly the resistance is stripped away.

      • John Schilling says:

        Some of the closed populations like that korean cult and some of the cruise ships should give us a fair idea of how much of the population have some resistance.

        That would tell you how much of the population has some biological resistance. Most of what is at issue here, though, is behavioral resistance. Some people are resistant to infection because they do not engage in behaviors likely to result in infection. We’d like to quantify that, but we can’t do it by looking at cruise ships and cult gatherings because the behaviors we are interested in are things like “doesn’t go on cruises” and “doesn’t join religious cults”.

        • Matt M says:

          The fact that even on a cruise ship, basic self-isolation was enough to prevent some 80% of the population from getting infected strikes me as incredibly promising, but what do I know…

          • keaswaran says:

            Did infection actually *stop* spreading on any of the cruise ships? Or did they just find that it had reached only 20% or 60% or whatever of the population by the time they got evacuated? (In most cases this was only after a couple weeks.)

          • albatross11 says:

            IIRC, the final rate of infection was comparable on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

        • emiliobumachar says:

          There’s also behavioral resistance like never touching one’s face except with freshly cleaned hands, even if no one else is looking. This should still be present in cruise ships and most cults.

          Unfortunately you’re probably right that the measure is confounded beyond hope. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine as to what are the relative contributions of these two kinds of behavioral resistance.

          Then again, I suppose those populations would be good for quantifying a lower bound of overall resistance, counting biological and some behavioral.

          • keaswaran says:

            “There’s also behavioral resistance like never touching one’s face except with freshly cleaned hands, even if no one else is looking.”

            I think that the base rate of this sort of behavioral resistance is likely substantially below 1%, except in populations consisting primarily of biomedical professionals or other people that regularly work with hazardous materials. I think it would be pretty negligible within most cruise ships and cults. (Or at least, would have been a few months ago – if you started new cruises or cults, they’d probably have a lot of people with this behavior now.)

          • albatross11 says:

            + people who cook a lot with chiles….

  20. Ninety-Three says:

    What are everyone’s favorite conspiracy theories? I’m not talking about what you believe is true, I want to know what gives you the most entertainment value. They can be completely absurd, though I find that it helps for them to be plausible on some level, the sort of thing to make one go “Huh, that’d be neat.”

    Personally, I’m in love with a theory about the JFK assassination. It holds that the second shooter was a government man, but it was an accident. Specifically, one of the armed guards heard Lee Harvey Oswald shoot and reflexively returned fire, tragically hitting the president. In the immediate aftermath, the people in charge looked at the situation and concluded that LHO’s shots alone were enough to kill JFK, so the poor second shooter didn’t really make anything worse. To publish what truly happened would see an innocent man destroyed in the court of public opinion, so they buried the story and pretended LHO fired all three shots.

    • SamChevre says:

      One memorable summer, I sold sausage at a farmer’s market. One of my fellow vendors had this elaborate conspiracy theory that was sort of an annotated compendium of conspiracy theories.

      It started with Peter being the Messiah’s regent, while John was his son by Mary Magdalene and his rightful heir. Somehow, this meant that the Jews of today weren’t really descendants of the Jews of Jesus’ time – those had been exiled after the fall of Temple and were the ancestors of modern Europeans. Also, Catholics had tried to maintain Peter’s primacy, after John was of age, which is a false regency. So John taught love, and we ought to love everyone, except that both Catholicism–really, Christianity as a whole–and Communism are based on hatred, because they are following Peter rather than Christ as revealed by John. Also, the Holy Grail was involved somehow.

      It definitely won points for inclusiveness, although being buttonholed to listen to it while exhaustedly trying to pack up after the farmer’s market may have been sub-optimal for appreciating its finer points.

      • keaswaran says:

        The claim that the Jews of today are descended from the Khazars rather than the actual Jews is a standard anti-semitic trope.

        • SamChevre says:

          I know.

          That was the thing about this set of theories–none of the elements were completely novel, but the synthesis was really rather impressive.

      • bullseye says:

        I’ve heard the claim that non-Jewish Europeans are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes, but I’ve never heard that they were descended from the Jews of Jesus’ time. That’s a very strange claim considering how well-documented it is that Europe was full of pagans at the time.

    • uau says:

      Calling aluminum foil “tin foil” is a conspiracy to trick people making tinfoil hats into creating useless aluminum foil ones instead. Tin foil hats do protect you from government mind control; aluminum foil does not.

    • ECD says:

      Created I hope by me, out of this thread:

      Low-flow toilet mandates were created to make it harder for drug dealers to flush their stash during police raids.

    • Beans says:

      Nibiru, lizard people (classic but still hilarious) and a runner up for not actually being a conspiracy theory: the pythagorean counter-earth.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        You could go around claiming that the government knows UFOs are alien spaceships sent by the Priest-kings of counter-earth, who worship the gods of Nibiru.

      • CatCube says:

        Nibiru

        Huh. TIL. I thought that was just something from Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated. Though that series was shot through with so many weird references I shouldn’t be surprised. (H.P. Hatecraft, Harlan Ellison voicing himself, new ska music from the English Beat, shot-for-shot remakes from Twin Peaks with the original actor, etc.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated explicitly cites it as “according to Zecharia Sitchin“.
          Sitchin seems interesting in that he was smugly 100% wrong about cuneiform but was apparently just a harmless avuncular-looking crank in NYC (by way of Armenia and Israel) living a normal life, rather than a big con artist or using his conspiracy theory to insinuate dark politics.

    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      By far No Forests on a Flat Earth. There are few worlds as majesticly magical as the one in which Devil’s Tower is a tree stump.

    • Another Throw says:

      Modern art is CIA propaganda that got a little out of hand.

    • theodidactus says:

      I think it’s very important for everyone involved (in, you know, the human experience) to hold the following two facts simultaneously in their mind:

      * The Shroud of Turin is ALMOST CERTAINLY NOT the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, which bears his image due to a flash of divine radiance at the exact moment of the resurrection.

      * Every single plausible alternative explanation is, somehow, weirder than that one.

      • Murphy says:

        Not following.

        isn’t “some conman painted some blood on some cloth so they could make some cash selling fake relics” a really simple explanation?

        • theodidactus says:

          I don’t want to suck you into a crying-of-lot-49/number-23 style conspiracy vortex if you don’t wanna go, but you opened the door.

          I’ll state my bona fides early to improve my cred
          * I’m an athiest
          * The shroud can be reliably carbon dated to well after christ

          Here’s the thing
          * the image on the shroud is almost certainly not painted

          • Deiseach says:

            The shroud can be reliably carbon dated to well after christ

            Eh. There’s controversy over that, given the fact that the Shroud was damaged in a fire and patched up with contemporaneous fabric. I think there’s been definite contamination over the years, so I don’t know if we can get any good carbon dating without using a piece from the centre and that’s not going to happen as it would damage the image.

            I’m agnostic on this, I’m happy to believe it’s Xth century production and not the actual burial cloth, but the evidence is not the firmest and most unimpeachable for any claims either very much pro or very much contra (for instance, I’m surprised by the part in the Wikipedia article that “The blind-test method was abandoned because the distinctive three-to-one herringbone twill weave of the shroud could not be matched in the controls, and a laboratory could thus identify the shroud sample”. Of all the potential problems, not being able to source a similar piece of cloth anywhere in the world from any fabric mill?)

        • Byrel Mitchell says:

          The image isn’t in either blood or paint. There was blood obscuring the face when it was found, but that’s since been removed. It’s almost certainly not a painting; a 2D Fourier transform almost always shows some oddities due to linear brushstrokes on paintings. The shroud doesn’t have that. We don’t really know how it was made.

          On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d agree that the usual hypotheses are weirder than the divine explanation. The early photography explanation sounds reasonably plausible for instance.

          • theodidactus says:

            A random list of weird stuff about the image on the shroud:

            * whether or not its 2D or 3D, it definitely doesn’t have brush strokes, or at least, the brushstrokes would have to be unbelievably subtle at every place the image was examined

            * The image itself was not made with pigment, it’s caused (at least in large part) by chemical fraying of the shroud

            * The human on the shroud is a *very* realistic human.

            Additionally here are some slightly more controversial propositions:

            * The injuries on the shroud are *very* realistic injuries

            * The blood on the shroud is real blood

            I’ve never quite bought the camera hypothesis. I was being somewhat deliberately hypoerbolic when I said every other explanation is literally weirder than the resurrection…I’d believe photography before Christ reborn obviously…but c’mon: the oldest photograph we have is quite good full body front and back image of a naked human? If you buy the “accurate wounding” hypothesis (which I do, though I note it is more controversial than the ‘not painted’ hypothesis) the explanation becomes even weirder…did they like, injure a guy with wounds consistent with the legendary wounds Christ received?

            Any explanation needs to account for another anomaly: if the idea is simply that one would make the shroud to fool people or otherwise make money, it’s weird that the shroud differs from what a potential consumer would expect at the time: Naked jesus, crucifixion wounds that differ from the usual depictions of the crucifixion, etc.

          • Evan Þ says:

            My favorite theory, by N. D. Wilson (who also writes fun children’s books), is that some medieval relic-fakers actually crucified someone and let the sun bake his image into the cloth. Unfortunately, several details of this apparently don’t work out.

          • theodidactus says:

            I’m about 75% convinced that you couldn’t make the shroud without, at some point, whipping a person, stabbing some stuff through their wrists, and having them lie down naked in that position.

          • Deiseach says:

            The literature professor, Nathan Wilson, a 26-year-old English teacher at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, has proposed a rather ingenious method for creating an image that looks something like the face image on the Shroud of Turin.

            Oh dear. If I’m looking for science debunking, I’m not so sure I’d pick a humanities graduate with a sideline hobby in photography as the rigorous scientific method I’d use.

            But hey, it makes for a neat headline and a fun topic along the lines of the latest National Geographic No Really This Time Actual Tomb Of Jesus special – good fun if you don’t take it seriously one way or the other!

          • SamChevre says:

            Nate Wilson is author of awesome children’s books, and his father is a well-known pastor whose blog (Blog and Mablog) is well worth reading–but he’s very Orange.

          • Nornagest says:

            Blog and Mablog

            Worth reading for the name alone, honestly.

        • keaswaran says:

          Isn’t it far more likely that someone in the medieval Near East found some shroud that had oddly preserved an image of the body, and then some crusader became convinced it was Jesus and brought it home?

          Just like Constantine’s mother went on her pilgrimage and found some nails and pieces of wood that looked neat and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when asking about whether or not they were the True Cross.

          It seems far more likely that something oddly convincing looking happens by chance and then gets selected than that someone intentionally figures out how to make it.

          • theodidactus says:

            I’ll admit I had not considered the possibility of an “accidental image” that then got touched up.

            I just don’t see how that image gets on their by accident. Admittedly, I’m no chemist, but just look at the image really close (obviously it shows up better in negative): you can see the thick and thin parts of the beard, the folds of the nose, the bones of the knee, the ribs…the cloth would HAVE to be like, right-flush to capture all that without distortion. Plus, the body is posed too neatly beneath the shroud. Not to be crass, but the position of the hands is rather photogenically perfect to obscure the private bits. Now, maybe that’s how you lay out a body for burial, I dunno.

            not saying it’s impossible, but it seems weird that both
            1) some random effect transfers an image to cloth due to chemistry/heat/light
            2) the body is perfectly positioned such that the body and face don’t look goblinoid

            of course, this cuts against the more supernatural theories involving blinding lights, etc, as well.

        • Deiseach says:

          isn’t “some conman painted some blood on some cloth so they could make some cash selling fake relics” a really simple explanation?

          It is, except that you’d expect a mediaeval/Renaissance conman to make it look more like a painted image (see the various depictions of Veronica’s Veil/the Mandylion) rather than “vague rusty splotches that only really look like an image when photography is invented and negatives are made”.

          Do I think the Shroud is indeed the burial cloth of Christ? I have no flippin’ idea. This is not a hill I will die on, I’m with the current position of the Church on it.

          Do I think it matters hugely if it is definitively proven to be a fake? Not really. If I chose to venerate it, I would do so in the same way that one uses a crucifix – a sacred symbol representing the greater reality it signifies. A fake Shroud is as good for that purpose as “a painting of the crucifixion” to pray before. It’s an icon.

      • Lambert says:

        How many stained cloths existed back in the day and what proportion of stains look kind of like a 33 year old middle eastern man?

    • Murphy says:

      Truther Trutherism.

      That some shadowy group routinely seeds conspiracy groups with utterly batshit and obviously wrong but interesting conspiracy theories to immunise those groups against more plausible conspiracy theories.

      Don’t want people overlaying certain early 9/11 reports with scooby-doo cartoon clips while talking about it in a sarcastic voice? ie, what might actually win over some reasonable people?

      No worries! Drown it out claims about steel and jet fuel that go against physical reality so that everyone dismisses the whole thing.

      Or maybe I have too much faith in humanity and those groups are just really good at self-seeding with obviously untrue things.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        That some shadowy group routinely seeds conspiracy groups with utterly batshit and obviously wrong but interesting conspiracy theories to immunise those groups against more plausible conspiracy theories.

        TBH, this is what I think the whole “QAnon” thing is. The fundamental idea that some shadowy person close to the president needs to drip out secret information in a cryptic fashion to Boomers on the chans about who’s going to get arrested any day now makes no sense on the face of it. Because whether or not Boomers on twitter or the chans know that indictments are coming is immaterial to whether or not indictments are coming. And then on top of that time and time again they’ve made predictions that turn out to be wrong. So the thing is clearly fake. But maybe it keeps the kind of people who would believe something like that in check by convincing them all they have to do is wait rather than let them be sucked in by something crazier that requires action.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          Isn’t the better explanation for QAnon that it’s just some rando messing with people? Like even granting that the government totally does run that sort of disinformation campaign, the number of bored randos vastly outweighs the number of CIA dudes. Any given conspiracy seems more likely to be a product of the randos, unless there’s some specific detail of Q that points to government involvement, and as far as I know he’s demonstrated no knowledge a rando wouldn’t have.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m not saying government involvement, but I think it’s gone on too long for a rando. That makes me think there’s some kind of purpose, but the only thing it accomplishes is confusing morons and making Trump supporters look bad. So…cui bono?

          • matkoniecz says:

            but I think it’s gone on too long for a rando

            You underestimate dedication of trolls.

            There is some person who spends several hours a day vandalizing Wikipedia (adding penis photos to random articles etc) and harassing editors.

            Since 2007, still active.

      • rocoulm says:

        Is it bad that I unironically believe this? Like, I’m not certainly convinced it’s true, but it doesn’t seem at all implausible to me.

        • Murphy says:

          If you liked that one I have a second: that in the field of cryptography there’s a particular norm/habbit that’s so ingrained that it’s like ringing a bell at pavlovs dogs:

          If you mention rolling your own encryption then people immediately leap in from every direction to shout “NEVER ROLL YOUR OWN!!!!”

          And there’s a reason that makes sense, it’s easy to screw up, but they take it exactly one step further than is logically sound because you can reasonably safely wrap even the crappiest encryption around an already encrypted block as long as you use different keys.

          There’s a tiny chance of information leekage… but that also applies to literally every other line of code running on the system from the 10 million in the OS to every other line of code you write in your application for handling non-crypto steps.

          This norm more or less guarantees that everyone uses a tiny tiny tiny number of standard libraries… which makes for a very tractable problem for any organisation that employs more mathematicians and cryptographers than any other org in the world and the budget to throw tens of millions at the problem of compromising standard libraries….

          If the norm was “always encrypt with a standard library and then wrap in something custom” then it would cripple any attack vector that relied on compromising a handful of standard libraries. Sure the custom code is probably imperfect… but it would take human effort for every single one.

          So.. again… if you happen to employ thousands of respected cryptographers and mathematicians it would be **extremely** easy to have them keep repeating a norm of “never roll your own” so often as to make the rest of the follow suit because it’s the sort of thing “respectable” people say.

          The hilarious thing is that it’s so ingrained that the last time I mentioned this hypothesis on SSC a bunch of people lept in to reply “NEVER ROLL YOUR OWN” while repeating the standard justification without replying in any way to the argument about how it’s taken exactly one step beyond where it’s logically sound. Some solid training there.

          • silver_swift says:

            So.. again… if you happen to employ thousands of respected cryptographers and mathematicians it would be **extremely** easy to have them keep repeating a norm of “never roll your own.

            I think you might be underestimating the difficulty of finding thousands of “respected cryptographers and mathematicians” that wouldn’t immediately start trying to figure out ways to let the world know that some authority figure was trying to spread deliberately misleading information.

            I mean, even setting aside the difficulties of getting a thousand regular people on board with that sort of thing, every last single information security related person I worked with has been among the most principled, paranoid and/or anti-authoritarian people I know.

            A far simpler explanation is that you want these kind of messages to be as simple as possible, ‘Don’t roll your own’ is a much simpler guideline than ‘Roll your own layer around existing libraries’. Plus, not adding more complexity than is needed is just good software engineering practice.

          • albatross11 says:

            I understand your reasoning, and certainly it’s possible to do superencryption and get no worse, maybe better security. But the reason why there’s so much “don’t roll your own” sentiment is that a lot of people have rolled their own crypto over the years, and then their algorithms got broken more-or-less as soon as a competent person spent a few hours looking at them.

            There are a fair number of encryption algorithms that have seen serious scrutiny and are highly regarded, so if you want some diversity, you don’t have to try to invent your own crypto algorithm.

            For symmetric crypto, AES is the thing everyone defaults to (and if it ever gets practically broken, we are deeply f–ked). That has seen decades of cryptanalysis in the public crypto community, and I think its security is extremely well-understood. There are also quite a few places where people are using Chacha, Twofish, or triple-DES (ugh). Also occasionally RC4, which is badly broken but still out there. The Caesar competition gave us a bunch of additional authenticated encryption schemes that look very strong, and there’s a competition by NIST to standardize some lightweight authenticated encryption schemes–both those have provided a bunch of new algorithms/modes with a lot of analysis focused on them, albeit nothing like the amount focused on AES yet. There are also older schemes like CAST and Blowfish and IDEA that still seem quite strong. If you’re worried that NSA has somehow broken AES, you could choose any of those as a fallback and superencrypt with them.

            Note that there’s a lot to get right with encryption besides the algorithm. Just thinking in terms of symmetric crypto, you need to look at the chaining modes used for any block cipher, and screwing that up can lead to attacks that bypass the strength of the cipher. Some modes include padding to get the plaintext to a full block. There are some clever attacks that exploit this to learn your plaintext by giving you slightly altered ciphertexts and seeing whether you respond with an error message or not. Also, if you do compression before encryption, the compression can create a side-channel (some messages compress better than others) and leak information about your plaintext. And so on.

            Further, your implementation needs to be constant-time–that is, the time taken to do an encryption/decryption must not depend in any way on any secret information, such as your plaintext or your key. Screw that up, and an attacker will in some cases be able to send you a bunch of messages, observe the time taken for you to respond, and learn your private key.

            This actually is a problem with AES if you implement it in a naive way–part of AES involves these look-up tables called S-boxes, and how long each lookup takes depends on the state of the cache. There are attacks where I give you something to encrypt/decrypt, watch how long it takes, and based on the expected state of the cache when you do the encryption/decryption, the time it takes for you to respond leaks information about your key. Most high-end processors now include hardware AES instructions that run in constant time–if you don’t have hardware support, you need to do a much more complicated kind of implementation to get constant time.

            The side channel / padding stuff means that you should use the well-analyzed, hopefully properly-implemented crypto to encrypt the message *first*. Then, you can do superencryption with a second cipher, using an entirely independent key. That way, if your second layer leaks, it can’t weaken the first layer.

            You also should care about authentication–ideally you use an authenticated encryption mode up front. Those are often somewhat fragile–the most common one is GCM, and it has the property that it requires a unique nonce for each message–reuse a nonce, and you leak your authentication key. (Yes, people screw this up all the time. No, they shouldn’t have standardized this glass-jawed mode, but by now it’s so widespread it’s hard to convince anyone to use anything else.)

            There’s also a bunch of key management and public key stuff, but most people don’t try rolling their own public key stuff because it’s way harder to even get a public key encryption scheme to work at all, let alone be secure.

          • ltowel says:

            @silver_swift:

            Isn’t finding thousands of “respected cryptographers and mathematicians” NSA’s literal charter? I don’t subscribe to NSA crpyto conspiracy theories, but something something Dual_EC_DRBG.

            Edit: Just to be clear, I think a part of why don’t roll your own crypto is such standard advise is as a small bit a response to this conspiracy theory. It’s important to remind people that while saying you should only use these libraries might appear a bit sketchy, crypto is hard and it’s a lot easier to lose people’s SSNs or credit card numbers then the average fresh out of college dev thinks.

          • Murphy says:

            @silver_swift

            that wouldn’t immediately start trying to figure out ways to let the world know that some authority figure was trying to spread deliberately misleading information.

            The UK government encouraged their allies to use enigma when a huge number of cryptographers knew it was cracked. They didn’t tell everyone.

            NIST Standard Elliptic Curve magic numbers.

            there’s a long tradition of governments pushing people to use encryption that lots of mathematicians know is broken.

            By comparison, spreading an **almost** totally logical social norm that mostly makes sense would be way way easier.

            @albatross11

            you could choose any of those as a fallback and superencrypt with them.

            I’m not really focusing on the protocol itself, the code is much squishier in practice.

            Imagine you wanted to compromise 99% of the worlds crypto traffic. How many of the most popular crypto libraries would you have to compromise? Assuming you were willing to spend 100 million bucks per library and had a team of good coders and mathematicians willing to play The Underhanded C Contest with contributions and/or at least one coder contributing to the library willing to trade his principles for a few million bucks willing to include the occasional “obviously correct” useful patch. How much would you have to spend to compromise 99% of all the worlds encrypted traffic?

            If it’s logical for them to do so then it seems odd to assume they wouldn’t.

            If I just pick a second popular crypto library under this assumption then it provides little or no protection.

            The side channel / padding

            This is why you’d only perform any home-rolled operations on data that’s already been encrypted with a mainstream library using a different key.

            Any claims about risks of data leekage at that stage would also apply to litterally any other operation you might be applying to that already encrypted block, whether it’s running some home-rolled crypto, reformatting the bytes to stick them into tweets or passing them through a networking stack.

            ya, people will screw up but it adds manual labour to try to find weaknesses in that outer layer.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Is it bad that I unironically believe this? Like, I’m not certainly convinced it’s true, but it doesn’t seem at all implausible to me.

          The same, it seems plausible that it happened. Maybe because someone wanted to be paid for inventing dumb ideas and managed to convince his/her boss in CIA/KGB/whatever to authorize this.

      • MisterA says:

        I could swear I read an article about the CIA officially acknowledging it released fake UFO documents to UFO conspiracy theorists, but I can’t find the citation now so maybe I am making this up.

    • rocoulm says:

      Englebert Dollfuss was assassinated by time travelers from the Future.

      A classic discussion that comes up every time time travel is discussed is, “If you could time travel, would you go back in time and kill Hitler?” There are plenty of reasons to argue “No.” Leaving aside the ethical considerations, perhaps Hitler was needed to keep Stalin in check. Maybe war was inevitable, and the best we can hope for was a lesser war that minimized the total casualties.

      Maybe that’s what we already got.

      For those who don’t know, Mr. Dollfuss was a Fascist politician in Austria, elected as chancellor in 1932 (shortly before Hitler came to power). Through some clever political maneuvering, he shortly dissolved parliament and made himself absolute ruler, and looked to be a rival of up-and-coming Adolf across the border. The next couple years brought on a great deal of political turmoil, culminating in his assassination in 1934, arguably setting the stage for Germany’s annexation of Austria two years later.

      Clearly, Dollfuss was actually a Mega-Hitler from another timeline, leading to a global war with billions of deaths. We should be thankful we got off so lightly.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Related: Someone from the future time-traveled into Rudolf Hess’s body, went half-insane from the shock of finding himself in the body of a leading Nazi, and personally defected to England with confused ramblings about how he needs to bring about a just peace right now.

      • JPNunez says:

        Maybe there was a reason Franz Ferdinand was murdered in the first place. To stop the one War that was somehow worse than WW1 and WW2 together.

      • Another Throw says:

        I have long maintained that Theodore Roosevelt was saved by a time traveler from the future to avert Taft’s bungling of WWI. And, like all good time travel tales, there were unintended consequences. TR splits the vote so that Wilson wins and bungles the job so badly that we end up way worse off with Nazism, WWII, the Cold War, etc.

        Maybe they’re all right; time travelers just can’t stop mucking with that time period, making it worse each time they try to fix the last mistake.

      • MisterA says:

        This reminds me of one of my favorite web comics:

        https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2013-03-19

    • Bobobob says:

      I have a copy of David Icke’s The Biggest Secret (picked up for a buck at a yard sale) and nothing else ever published comes close to his lizard-people conspiracy. It’s entertaining just to pick up the book and read a sentence at random.

      • Anteros says:

        It’s embarrassing for us Brits – he was once upon a time the presenter of the BBC’s premier sports programme. I suppose we have to rely on our sense of humor to note he’s not just a nutter, but crazier than a box of frogs.

      • bullseye says:

        Icke has Neo-Nazi fans who think he’s really talking about the Jews. The Anti-Defamation League thinks so too.

        I watched a documentary on him that concluded he really is talking about lizards, but I also a video from near the beginning of his lizard career where he accuses the lizards of drinking blood from blonde, blue-eyed infants.

    • smocc says:

      I cannot shake the lizard part of my brain that believes that all viruses were created by a time-travelling mad scientist. The basic mechanism of viruses has the sort of evil simplicity that feels like it could only come from the mind of a human designing a weapon.

    • cassander says:

      Someone needs to make an Apollo 13 style movie, played totally straight, about the heroes who faked the moon landing.

    • Deiseach says:

      The “an oldie but a goodie” ones about Sinister Jesuit Plots where the Jesuits are these suave, worldly, fiendishly cunning gentlemen of taste and breeding who are exotically, if sinisterly, attractive in a way that influences women and weak-willed men into falling for their schemes. It’s much more amusing to contemplate than the messiness of contemporary Catholicism, which as Tolkien mentioned in a letter of 1963 to one of his sons, has been around since the beginning:

      Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which [Our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)

      • zzzzort says:

        I mean, this one is just obviously true. Also possibly falls into the set of conspiracy theories created by their subjects to make themselves seem cooler.

      • the Jesuits are these suave, worldly, fiendishly cunning gentlemen of taste and breeding who are exotically, if sinisterly, attractive in a way that influences women and weak-willed men into falling for their schemes.

        I spent 20+ years teaching at a university run, as best I could tell very well, by Jesuits. You remind me of a comment by someone who, after dining at the Jesuit residence hall, said that after seeing what they meant by poverty he wondered what their definition of celibacy was.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh bless ’em, there’s plenty of jokes about various religious orders and the Jesuits always get the “if this is your notion of poverty, chastity and obedience…” ones.

          I’m sure I’ve quoted these before, but they never go out of style!

          (1) A man met a Jesuit and a Franciscan and jokingly asked, “How many novenas would I need to say to get a Porsche?”
          The Franciscan asked “What’s a Porsche?”
          The Jesuit asked “What’s a novena?”

          (2) A Franciscan gets a haircut, and then asks how much he owes. The barber says he never charges clergy. The Franciscan thanks the barber and goes home. The next morning the barber finds a big basket of fresh bread from the Franciscans’ kitchens.

          An Augustinian gets his hair cut by the same barber. The barber also tells him than he never charges clergy. The next day the barber receives a nice bottle of wine from the Augustinians’ wine cellar.

          A Jesuit gets his haircut, and the barber again says that he never charges clergy. The next day, when the barber opens his shop, there are twelve other Jesuits already waiting for him.

    • keaswaran says:

      I’m not sure if these are exactly “conspiracy theories” or just “crackpot theories”. But my two favorites are:

      Plate tectonics is only *half* real – seafloor spreading is real, but subduction is clearly a hoax:

      http://thelastoutpost.com/alternative-science/thegrowingearth.html

      The best part is that he has a whole YouTube series putting his skills as one of the original illustrators of Batman to use: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7D72BE536454A8CF&app=desktop

      My other favorite is Fomenko’s “New Chronology”, which claims that Ancient and Medieval history actually consist of a small set of events that were duplicated with very different errors, so that many people and events we think of as distinct are actually the same. Elisha, Jesus, St. Basil, and Gregory VII are actually the same person. Troy, Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople are actually the same city. Many of the apparent archeological sites are actually fakes made in the period we call the 17th century, when we know it became fashionable for nobles throughout Europe to make fake ruins. He proves this all by statistical correlations among the densities of events in each year in annals from the different periods. It’s a nicely disorienting look at history that makes it hard to get your grip on what a calendar or chronology even means!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Chronology_(Fomenko)

      • Lambert says:

        Expanding Earth was once one of a number of respectable hypotheses, alongside Wegener’s Continental Drift.

        Since the details of the latter weren’t yet worked out, the former didn’t look so implausible in comparison.

      • zzzzort says:

        I can’t find a link, but my favorite geological pseudo-science is that the continents were formed by separate collisions of large bodies. This explains why several continents are narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, because the objects that formed them were moving perpendicular to the elliptic, and so they splatted out.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Michael Flynn had a cute novel with the premise that the world was covertly ruled by the Society of Babbage, who have used computers to predict the course of history even as far back as when computers were just Difference Engines. Somebody from outside is recruited and objects that human behavior is too complex and chaotic for that to work. “That’s what everybody believes. But who told you that?”

    • MisterA says:

      I am always a big fan of the Denver International Airport conspiracy.

      Basically the art in the airport is so goddamn weird that people think there must be an elaborate conspiracy behind it. This is of course total nonsense, but you can see why people think something must be up, because the art really is bizarre. I actually got to have a stopover there and it was fun to see just how weird it is in person.

      I mean, I did know about the giant nightmare horse statue with glowing red eyes out front, and the insane murals, but before I got there in person I never knew the baggage claim was full of statues of luggage demons.

      By the time I left I was pretty sure it was a conspiracy after all. A conspiracy to do what, I have no idea.

      • keaswaran says:

        You have to remember that the horse statue actually killed its creator:

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

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I have family in Denver, so I’ve been to that airport for more than just a layover.
        The mystery behind the conspiracy theory is that Denver had a perfectly serviceable airport, but they built a vastly larger new one ~30 minutes away from the city by Interstate. That’s not an evil conspiracy: the Denver Metropolitan Area has atrocious sprawl and the city government wanted to become an air travel hub (it’s at least Frontier’s hub now).
        Then the statues they paid artists to decorate the place with all look demonic. But Western artists are under selection pressure to be the WEIRDest of WEIRD people, so that’s no evidence that they’re real Satanists giving away their evil plan to do evil things to unsuspecting Americans (the conspiracy theory is that the Denver airport will be a New World Order concentration camp).
        But by the time I get to the mural that looks like package art for a villain from a non-PC timeline’s version of the GI Joe toyline, I don’t even.
        Oh, and the giant horse statue, Blucifer? It killed its creator.

        • keaswaran says:

          Denver is also a major United hub, right? Or at least, was until a few weeks ago. It’s better placed for cross-country connections than SFO or LAX, and has better weather conditions than ORD. I guess the only advantage it has over IAH for United is that being farther north makes it less out-of-the-way on great circle routes.

      • ana53294 says:

        Yeah, now that I saw the blue mustang, I want to spray it with holy water or something…

      • Nick says:

        I just heard about this and am fully on board now.

    • Tenacious D says:

      That treasure from the Knights Templar is hidden on Oak Island.

      That Zheng He reached North America before Columbus.

    • Here’s one I made up: The 9/11 attack was faked, and in fact… the Twin Towers never existed in the first place. Anyone who claims to have seen them is in on the conspiracy.

      xkcd’s “compromise” 9/11 theory is excellent as well.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      1. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (subject of a famous conspiracy theory) is the son of Queen Elizabeth.

      2. Stalin engineered the Korean war specifically to get PRC and USA shooting at each other, to delay their allying against him for 20 years.

      3. The prime minister of Italy rose to power by conspiring with the Masons to take over the media.

      4. The Jeffrey Epstein story didn’t kill itself.

  21. AlesZiegler says:

    I am soliciting recommendations on some good reading, in English, about France in WW1. I feel that it is the side of the story I know the least (except for Italy, perhaps). There is a ton written in English about English speaking participants in the war, of course, and from my corner of Eastern Europe I can find a lot about Austria-Hungary, while Germany and Russia are fascinating for English speaking authors (for Eastern European authors of course as well, but they tend to be heavily biased in various ways).

    But it is my impression that English war historiography is more interested in Germany than in France. E.g. I have Imperial war museum Book of the Somme, which features excerpts from letters and diaries of British and German soldiers, but not from French, despite them being major participants in the battle.

    • Eric Rall says:

      William Shirer’s Collapse of the Third Republic had a good section on WW1 in France. The main emphasis of the book, as the name implies, is on the later interwar years and the opening years of WW2, but the narrative of the book actually covers the entire lifespan of the Third Republic all the way back to the end of the Franco-Prussian War.

    • SystematizedLoser says:

      Tuchman’s The Guns of August is a fun and well-written read that covers up through the First Battle of the Marne. It covers all Western Front (and Russia) participants more or less equally, but it goes into more detail about the French perspective than I had before experienced.

    • spkaca says:

      The Price of Glory by Alistair Horne, about Verdun, is a classic.

  22. Bobobob says:

    I know this has been discussed here before, but I’m creeping up on one mixed drink a day (usually a Manhattan or whisky sour around 4 or 5) and a tall IPA at dinner. In the Before Time, I would only have one drink per day, usually the IPA. Should I be worried?

    (I am otherwise working productively and remotely and not going insane)

    • Well... says:

      Yes: why are you making effete mixed drinks at all instead of drinking your liquor neat like a man?

      (Serious answer: no, you shouldn’t be worried. Two drinks a day + staying productive is probably fine so long as it doesn’t grow to more and more drinks a day + being not productive. If you don’t have a personal or family history of alcoholism this shouldn’t be a concern, just keep an eye on it.)

      • Bobobob says:

        Yeah, that sounds about right. I’m not sure if I’m more worried about drinking out of lockdown boredom or drinking out of a craving to have a drink, if that even makes sense.

        In the Before Time, it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to have a mixed drink on a Monday. Now weekdays and weekends are all smooshed together and my habits are out of whack.

      • Beans says:

        Yes: why are you making effete mixed drinks at all instead of drinking your liquor neat like a man?

        This, seek medical attention.

    • Matt M says:

      If my understanding of exponential growth is correct, if your daily drink consumption doubles every three months, within two years you’ll be having 256 drinks/day, which sounds terrifying.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I went from having 1-2 beers (higher alcohol) beers 3-5 days a week to 2 beers 7 days a week and then an occasional 3rd during the first 3 weeks so I cut alcohol out entirely for 4 weeks and last night had a few. I am going to try to keep myself down to less than a 6 pack a week for the near future, but the most important thing I have noticed in my life is that it is way easier for me to go from 2 drinks a night to zero than it is to go from 2 to 1, which means I basically always cut alcohol out entirely for multiple weeks if I want to cut back.

      • gbdub says:

        I also find it’s easier to abstain entirely for a day than to have just one. Usually for me that means a beer with dinner and a pour of whiskey for a night cap.

        Not particularly worried about alcoholism – I’m not interested in getting drunk, just that beer with food tastes good and a whiskey to unwind is a pleasant mental signal that the day is done. But the calories are no good for the waistline.

        Before we went work at home, I was doing pretty good at “no booze on weeknights”, but I’ve fallen off that weekend and a drink has become a bit of a crutch to transition to “ok the work day is done”.

    • Bobobob says:

      This thread effectively diverted me from my mixed-drink craving. Now all I have to do is post the exact same thing every day for the next three months. (I just learned that my office building probably will not reopen until September.)

    • a real dog says:

      Based on my layman’s understanding of addiction I specifically avoid consuming any drug in a scheduled, regular fashion. Serves me well so far and is a very low hanging fruit to pick. Also variety is the spice of life and you don’t enjoy it any more if it becomes a habit.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, finding recommended alcohol limits is a pain to convert between our two nations, but the US moderate drinking recommendation is 2 drinks a day for men, and they measure standard drinks as “12 oz of beer, 1.5 oz spirits”.

      I don’t know how to make Manhattans or whiskey sours, the recipes online call for 2 oz of spirits for these, so you’re just a tiny bit over the recommendation limit.

      If you’re only drinking the one bottle of beer plus the mixed drink, that should be around the two drinks a day (or a bit over). You’re okay, and I imagine it’s more from boredom and having the free time to do it because you’re at home not working. If you’re seriously worried, cut back on the spirits to maybe 3 or 4 times a week, or instead of the beer with dinner and a drink earlier, drink the mixed drink or wine with dinner.

      You know best how you feel – if you’re at the point where you feel you need that drink, not just “I’m drinking because hey why not be sophisticated with cocktails”, then it’s concerning. If you could easily skip it, it’s no problem.

    • keaswaran says:

      I found it illuminating to see statistics on actual drinking by actual Americans:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/25/think-you-drink-a-lot-this-chart-will-tell-you/

      About a third of adults in the United States basically don’t drink. Another third drink less than once a week. Out of the remaining third, a third average about a drink a day, a third average about two drinks a day, and the top third of that top third average about 10 drinks a day!

      So you’ve moved from squarely in the third decile from the top to squarely in the second decile from the top. I imagine that in Europe your drinking would be much lower.

      Also, my boyfriend and I have started doing more interesting cocktails (we now drink probably about four or five nights a week rather than one or two). He is a chemistry professor that watches a lot of food YouTube, and in particular found Cocktail Chemistry a good channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-o0CfpOyFJOfyWKtqS1hZQ

      • Lambert says:

        Does he have a spare ultrasonic bath lying about? Turns out you can do infusions (alcoholic and otherwise) orders of magnitude faster than they’d normally happen.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlQT4ptwLKs

        • keaswaran says:

          He has definitely talked about this, but is too concerned about cadmium poisoning to bring home any equipment from lab.

          • Lambert says:

            It seems you can get cheapo ones designed to clean jewellery for $30-50. I might get one sometime.

            Keeping your booze and carcinogenic heavy metals separate is probably a good idea.

      • Bobobob says:

        If I’m doing the math right, 11% of American adults have 10 or more drinks per day?

        That can’t be right. But if it is right, it would explain a lot…

        • Eric Rall says:

          There are huge problems with the study behind that chart. Basically, the author took existing survey data and assumed everyone actually drank about 2x what they said they did, based on discrepancies between the amount of self-reported consumption and industry or tax data on retail sales of alcohol intended for human consumption.

          Other possible explanations for the discrepancy between self-reported consumption and retail sales that collectively strike me as more likely than “everyone is uniformly understating their actual consumption by a factor of two”:

          1. Occasional drinkers are underreporting their drinking by a much greater percentage than regular drinkers. It’s easier to track consumption accurately if your consumption is consistent, and heavy drinkers in particular should have a pretty good idea of how often they need to buy more booze.

          2. Some heavy drinkers are ignoring or misunderstanding survey instructions and defining “one drink” unreasonably generously and self-reporting as if they were occasional-to-moderate drinkers. E.g. counting a 40 oz bottle of beer as “one drink” when the actual definition intended was a 12 oz bottle.

          3. Some self-reported non-drinkers are lying. A uniform 2x adjustment applied to a self-reported value of 0 drinks still “corrects” this to 0.

          4. Not all alcohol sold for consumption is actually consumed as an alcoholic beverage: some is wasted and some is used for cooking. There’s also often a substantial lag time between when alcohol is purchased and when it gets consumed: for example, I personally have several partially-consumed bottles of liquor that I’ve owned for at least a decade.

          5. There’s some bias in the sample selection that over-represents occasional drinkers and nondrinkers relative to their incidence int he general population

          So basically the bottom line is “10% of adult Americans in 2001 self-reported averaging 5 drinks/day. Some people in that survey are probably lying or mistaken, but we’re not sure who or by how much.”

          • keaswaran says:

            Ah good, thanks for pointing out some of these issues!

            But as I say below, I think that we should expect some amount of fat tail here, and so in any case shouldn’t think that the average of the top decile represents the median member of the top decile very well, any more than the average income of the top decile of Americans is a good guide to the median income of the top decile of Americans.

        • keaswaran says:

          Eric Rall has some good reasons to be skeptical of the details of this survey. But the interpretation you give also isn’t quite right even if we take the numbers at face value. The top 10% *average* 74 drinks a week, but that’s probably because the 90-95 percentiles average something like 30 drinks a week, then 95-97 percentiles average something like 40 drinks a week, the 98-99 percentiles average something like 80 drinks a week, and the top percentile averages whatever ridiculously large number is needed to bring the average for this whole decile up to 74 drinks a week.

          I was once out drinking with a friend who was actively tracking his drinks using a phone app, because he was trying to cut back. It surprised me because he was at 30 for that week already on Saturday early afternoon, and was likely to get more that evening. (I was visiting the city for the weekend as a break from living in my smallish college town, so midday drinking seemed perfectly normal in the context.) A moderately small number of people drink a very large amount. It’s not quite as much of a fat-tailed distribution as the income distribution or the distribution of number of sexual partners, but it has a lot in common with both of those.

          I was much more surprised at the large number that basically don’t drink. But I suppose this is something that is very hard to observe in the natural state. Most people actively socialize with people whose drinking habits are relatively similar to theirs. I tend to hang out not with suburban parents, but with urban academics, and in particular a subset of those that are selected for sociality and not having kids. And of course, I don’t directly observe people’s drinking habits unless we are in a context where people are drinking – and the people who don’t drink just often don’t show up in those contexts at all!

          But I think in general, European drinking habits are all shifted upwards from the American ones. I don’t know how Asian patterns are (though there’s at least a culture in Japan and Korea of hard-drinking businesspeople) and I really know nothing of Latin American and African habits.

          • Randy M says:

            When I traveled for business I was surprised by how much my fellows drank. Usually a bottle with dinner for the table, and then going out for drinks to have a few more. That’s including times when no customer or client was present to impress.
            But that may have been partly due to having an expense account and partly due to not having much better to do stuck in a distant city.

            When I was in China for a week for training, the hosts drank a lot over the course of a lengthy dinner meal, but I don’t know if that’s generalizable.

            My own personal habits (as a suburban parent) is, I only drink when someone else buys. It’s pleasant now and then, but alcohol is expensive and I don’t really enjoy getting buzzed. I’m pretty sure I’ve never bought an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant just due to cost reasons.
            This equates to about one drink every other week when my buddy brings over some hard cider for game night, with a very rare bottle of wine my wife might pick up.
            Both my parents have had bouts with alcoholism, so it’s probably for the best for me to be cautious. I don’t judge people who do drink more often (anymore than anyone else, anyway).

  23. Chalid says:

    I’m wondering how to think about pregnancy and covid-19. It seems like pregnant women are getting sick at similar rates to pregnant women and transmission to infants is pretty rare, and the infants are not obviously seriously affected. Anything we actually have evidence for suggests that things are fine.

    OTOH I feel like I should have a pretty high prior that having low blood oxygen levels would be bad news for a fetus, and so would a high fever. Looking at 1918 you see large long-term effects from flu on children born during that pandemic and it’s not clear to me that we can possibly have any evidence relating to those effects for this pandemic. On the gripping hand, influenza is much worse for young children than covid-19 is.

    • albatross11 says:

      Most of the pregnant women who tested positive in that study in NYC were asymptomatic, so maybe they’re either not having any particular lung problems, or the problems aren’t reaching the point of causing them any particular problems. (Plenty of pregnant women live at high altitudes, swim, fly in airplanes, exercise, etc., and the kids seem to do okay, so there’s probably a fair bit of reserve capacity there.)

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Anecdata but I know a delivery nurse and due to legal reasons, while she knows the mothers have COVID, she cannot ask for the baby’s information. A single baby has died, but she cannot tell if it was due to COVID or not because of these privacy laws (HIPAA or something? I’m not a doctor). I assume that if COVID was dangerous to babies that she would have a lot more than one data point here, so the fact that it is only one baby means that we shouldn’t panic.

      • Chalid says:

        Yeah, I agree that we’d definitely know by now if there were obvious short-term impacts.

        I’m more worried about the long-term effects of being born to a sick mother. If you read the MR paper I linked the long-term impacts of being born in an epidemic are really shockingly bad.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I listened to a podcast recently, from a researcher who studies children who were in the womb during various crises. Her first study involved a horrific icestorm that left large areas without electricity for varying numbers of days, or weeks. She followed those children until they turned 19. (Or maybe she’s still following them, and the ice storm was exactly 19 years ago today).

      Even without the mothers getting sick while pregnant, she’s observing all kinds of statistically significant effects. What happens depends a lot on the stage of pregnancy- whatever was developing fast at the time of the maternal stressor tends to get affected. She’s also seeing extra obesity in these children, compared to children born a year earlier or later.

      She’s also studied children that were in the womb during other high stress periods, in a variety of countries, and gave the impression that results tended to be similar.

      I’d say that whether or not you get CV-19, if you are pregnant right now it will have effects on your child, but probably more at the “statistically significant” [i.e. higher chance of …] level than at the “obvious to laymen” level.

      Of course if you get the disease while pregnant, we have no real idea what might happen, except that if the babies were being miscarried at an above average rate, someone would probably have noticed [and published] by now.

      [Edit: with regard to the linked article, several of the results cited are also observed at a statistically significant level if the mother merely spent significant time without electricity in the aftermath of the ice storm. No need for maternal illness to create some of these effects.]

      • Randy M says:

        How vulnerable is this to p-hacking? There’s myriad factors that could be picked out in analysis, especially decades later. Some of them are going to end up significant.

        • DinoNerd says:

          That’s a very good question. This was a podcast, not a research paper, so I don’t even have as good an idea of this as I would have had from a paper – and even then, a lot of people seem to manage to fool themselves with research that appears valid until it fails to replicate because the next researcher didn’t treat “irrelevant” factors the same way. And nothing was said in this podcast about what parts of the data had been replicated with other subjects by other researchers.

          I’m inclined to trust it, at least somewhat, but with a question-mark attached.

    • March says:

      As someone who was trying to get pregnant (and who lost a pregnancy last year at 6 months), I got medium freaked out about this article about higher risk for stillbirth due to covid-19. I hope researchers will follow up on this.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Best of luck successfully having a healthy baby next time you get pregnant, whether or not it’s this year.

        Please remember that “increased risk” is not destiny, and when risks are low in the first place (overall risk of second-trimester miscarriage) doubling or tripling them still means most mothers are not affected.

  24. BBA says:

    A brief update on something I mentioned a couple of weeks ago: the NY State Board of Elections had ordered the cancellation of the Democratic presidential primary since only one candidate remained on the ballot. The Yang and Sanders campaigns (or what’s left of them) sued the board in federal court, arguing that their removals from the ballot violated the First Amendment, and got a preliminary injunction to restore all of the removed candidates to the ballot. So the primary is back on, and though it’s likely that Biden will have clinched the nomination by then, there’s a chance that New York will be the deciding state. Yay?

    The board has appealed the injunction to the 2nd Circuit, and it’s possible the case will go to the Supreme Court after that. My guess is that ultimately, the primary will happen, for the practical reason that the ballots will need to be printed soon and there’s not enough time to reverse course yet again. This is setting aside the constitutional question of when an election overseer can legitimately observe that a candidate has dropped out of the race and remove their name from the ballot, which I predict the court will punt on, since it’s probably not going to come up again.

    • etheric42 says:

      As far as I understand it, they technically just “suspended their campaign”, as the amount of votes/delegates they garner in later primaries gives them negotiating power at the convention and validation for party platform shifts.

      As in they don’t expect to win and aren’t trying to, but still want to win votes.

      • BBA says:

        The state law specifically says that “suspending” one’s campaign for FEC purposes amounts to “terminating” the campaign for NYSBOE purposes. Well, at least with regard to the NYSBOE’s newly granted power to remove a candidate from the ballot if they dropped out after the deadline for getting their names on the ballot for the original April 28 primary but well before the rescheduled June 23 primary. None of this factors into the court’s decision.

        • Lambert says:

          But can Bernie go to a tiny town and campaign in front of about 3 people and count as not suspended?

        • Aapje says:

          @BBA

          Suspending a campaign doesn’t exist in the Federal Election Campaign Act, so a suspended campaign is the exact same as an active campaign, in the view of the FEC. The NYSBOE is making their own rules, not based on FECA. It seems quite plausible that they are allowed to do so, but not because it is consistent with FECA.

          The legal challenge was over them changing the rules during the election process, which they for obvious reasons were not allowed to do.

  25. theodidactus says:

    Occasionally, I fiddle with screenplays. I like to think about historical people, and roles, as if they were set in a different anachronistic mode or genre. This has been done a few times like in “A Knight’s Tale” or “The Little Hours.” I think, even if it impacts historical accuracy negatively, it’s fun and helpful because it helps you cut through a lot of the stereotypical images that have been built up around figures or time period.

    So for example, someday I’d like to do a pirate movie which has the madcap frying-pan-and-fire dynamics of crime movies like Snatch or Goodfellas (in vernacular obviously)…simply because the pirate mythology has been so tinged with high adventure and treasure island and the like that I think we miss how much their actual dynamics worked like uh…sorta combination heist movie, rise-through-the-ranks crime drama, and mercenary operation. There was structure there, and ambition, and coordination, but you could definitely get something hacked off if you looked at a guy the wrong way.

    What other role contrasts are fun to think about? Were Babylonian priests more like modern lawyers, doctors, politicians, or academics? Were Medieval witches more like modern psychics or drug dealers? Were knights like marines or pro wrestlers? Were the great explorers more like astronauts or long-haul truckers?

    • cassander says:

      I want a Peloponnesian War series on HBO in the style of house of cards, with Alcibiades as the lead character played with a captain jack level of frenetic decision making.

      • keaswaran says:

        Presumably Alcibiades is picking up older men like Socrates, rather than sharing Kevin Spacey’s tastes.

        • cassander says:

          Alcibiades was rich enough that he had a trireme. Being Alcibiades, he modified it to have a larger, more comfortable bed in the back.

          I want the series to open with him…um…entertaining a gentleman caller on his trireme. When he’s done entertaining, he walks up out of the port down the long walls, treating us to glorious shots lovingly re-created classical athens and explaining the basics of Athenian politics and geo-politics. He gets to the Pnyx just in time for the gentleman caller to step forward to nominate Alcibiades for a generalship, and he grins at the camera then walks up to make a speech. End scene.

          I think that will set the tone for the whole series.

        • cassander says:

          @nick

          Well, what do you expect? I don’t shill my bad ideas.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d fund that Kickstarter.

    • John Schilling says:

      Wait, a story about pirates who go out and steal things? That’s crazy talk!

    • zzzzort says:

      This doesn’t work well for a variety of good story-telling reasons, but I just want an exploration/colonization sci-fi where things don’t go horribly wrong. Marginally wrong is ok, challenges, set backs, and conflicts, but existing stories are all crash landings/malevolent super aliens/run away ai. I just want low-anxiety little house on the mare acidalium.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think you have a very good story along these lines. You would need some actual struggle of some kind, probably a mix of man-vs-nature and man-vs-man, but it wouldn’t need to be an “oh, shit, we’re all doomed/mankind is doomed/aliens are killing us all off” sort of storyline.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy?

        • zzzzort says:

          Hadn’t heard of that, i’ll check it out. Thanks!

          • tossrock says:

            In fairness, some things do go pretty wrong.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I mean…they do, in interesting ways in the first one. But after that it’s just really boring terraforming with only one or two interesting conflicts I remember. I found them boring, but that seems like what z^4ort wants.

          • zzzzort says:

            Wait, am I the only one who found the middle bit of the Martian the best?

            My other ideal would be a more exploration oriented story, where the characters encountered strange new worlds, explored them, but then nothing tried to kill them. Like stargate, before the bad aliens showed up. Or event horizon before the bad aliens showed up. Aliens minus aliens would be pretty boring, but prometheus would be interesting.

          • albatross11 says:

            To be fair, the environment on Mars will be trying pretty hard to kill the colonists through the entire story. Early on, they won’t be as good at outwitting it; later, they’ll be better at avoiding short-term doom but longer-term/slower-acting stuff can creep up on them.

      • psmith says:

        I remember Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky being a rather charming example of this.

      • theodidactus says:

        Someone posted a few weeks ago about the sci-fi 4X game “Aurora”,
        frankly, while the game is mostly a combat simulator, my own model-trains-and-prosocial-attitude approach to the whole setup tended to produce stories that were more like this: Surveyors racing to distant planets largely to satisfy personal ego-driven rivalries, scientists having anxiety attacks when they suddenly realize they could potentially be the first person to represent humanity to some bizarre alien race, crew members unexpectedly hooking up after their engine blows out and they’re left to drift for six months without more company…

        …with a little imagination that game can be so involved that I always completed my story arcs before the aliens showed up.

      • AG says:

        Little House on the moon crater

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Heinlein’s _Tunnel in the Sky_ was something like that – youths abandoned accidentally on a planet where they were only supposed to survive for a couple of weeks. They had troubles but they managed okay.

      • herbert herberson says:

        Check out Semiosis

      • Orion says:

        Rendezvous with Rama is a good one. We find a massive alien spacecraft flying through our solar system and send a team to check it out. They land and start exploring the inside, finding an alien ecosystem but no sign of a crew. Various one-off incidents endanger various crew members, but there isn’t a twist where suddenly hostile aliens show up or anything.

    • Bobobob says:

      Charles Babbage as a tech bro?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Ada Lovelace demands more women in tech: there should be at least two.

      • theodidactus says:

        That’s a good one.

        As a related point, I’m just floored that no one has made a Beautiful-Mind/Theory-of-Everything style inquiry into the personal life of Erwin Schrodinger. The timeline is exactly right that you could plausibly portray him as having a major breakthrough *during* an argument with his wife about an extramarital affair.

    • Erusian says:

      I think we often forget that knights were not landholders who sometimes soldiered but soldiers who were compensated with land. The 19th century created this romantic image that tinges everything today. A modern military movie about a warrior aristocrat hoping to earn his knighthood could hit a lot of war movie beats without either being overly romantic or cynically subverting previous romanticism.

      Despite their place in the popular culture, we’re still largely ensnared by Christian propaganda about Roman sports. The coliseum could be cruel. But being a charioteer or gladiator was more like being an F1 racer or MMA fighter: even losers generally (though not always) survived. Imagine a sports movie about taking down a gladiator opponent or beating a team. Even better, there was often interesting politics involved in the various teams. Seems like a good come from behind sports underdog story.

      I’ve long wanted to see a domestic drama about building a castle. The main character could be a professional architect (as would be the norm). He would have to put up with budgetary constraints, unruly workers, princesses and kings being bratty and wanting a perfect new home, and all while trying to make a grand stride in defensive structures and the beauty of architecture. You could toss in some politics but I’d stick to making it primarily an interpersonal story.

      There’s a lot of romantic comedies or dramedies from across time. Some of them would still hold up today: like the Chinese book where a grand, wealthy patriarch is in constant pain because he’s surrounded himself with young nubile wives and is addicted to boner pills. A lot of them translate pretty well, actually.

      There’s a lot of early modern literature (from Japan to Spain) about naive countryboys making it in the big city. Indeed, they tended to be more cynical about the move than we are today. Someone trying to make it big in any number of professions (including theater, if you want to be obvious) could fit very well.

      If you’re willing to wade into unfamiliar territory, religious orders often had very practical secret knowledge and were not shy about stealing it from each other. There’s a legend that a lot of early Chinese fortification practices were stolen from a pacifist Chinese religious order that got really good at building walls to avoid fighting. (The Japanese claim they eventually left China for Japan.) There’s the famous theft of silk worms from China (which was done by monks). Seems like a good heist movie, made all the more interesting because of the religious dynamics at play.

      And, of course, the classic heroes journey is highly encouraged by aristocratic hereditary societies. Imagine the classic hero’s journey told about an actual heir to the throne. He’s some baron and then he gets word some distant relative died and he’s now the King of wherever. But there’s an evil usurper. Throw in some natural conflict about liking his home and having never been there and you’ve got an interesting conflict.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        But being a charioteer or gladiator was more like being an F1 racer or MMA fighter: even losers generally (though not always) survived. Imagine a sports movie about taking down a gladiator opponent or beating a team. Even better, there was often interesting politics involved in the various teams.

        I mean, once you’re well into the Christian era, there was that time color-coded chariot racing fans briefly overthrew the state and the hereditary monarch was running to a ship when his base-born former-actress Empress blocked his path.

        • theodidactus says:

          wow I’ve never thought about this before, basically a soccer riot that overthrew the government.

        • John Schilling says:

          when his base-born former-actress Empress blocked his path.

          “Actress” being a euphemism for a much older and baser profession. So, yeah, the entertainers were running the show from all sides there.

          • MPG says:

            @John Schilling

            Well, maybe. In my experience, historians tend to see, rightly, that Procopius is a being a misogynistic jerk (however plausible his political ends) in that part of the Secret History, and to assume, perhaps charitably, that the “older and baser profession” was only a secondary part of a job-description that can fairly be summed up as “actress, in the good really iffy old-fashioned sense.”

            What Procopius describes sounds well within the range of what actresses did in the ancient world. I mean, acting out a scene from mythology with something that looks, at least from across the hippodrome, like a striptease? Checks all the boxes. The after-dinner scene with the forty dudes is, for a girl in the public eye, only too plausible. What I just wonder is if she got her revenge on any of them once she became empress.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, maybe. In my experience, historians tend to see, rightly, that Procopius is a being a misogynistic jerk (however plausible his political ends) in that part of the Secret History,

            I think it should go without saying that a primary source by a court historian wherein he claims that his patron was a demon who flew his detachable head around the palace requires extra scrutiny.

          • matkoniecz says:

            “actress, in the good really iffy old-fashioned sense.”

            AFAIK in ancient world being actress or prostitute was both considered as being equally low status jobs.

          • MPG says:

            @matkoniecz

            Sure. My point is that “euphemism” is too reductionist. It’s not so much that “actress” really meant “whore,” but that actress entailed whore, in both law and actual practice of the profession. That’s what Procopius is trading on, whether or not his specifics are any more true than the part about Justinian’s headless horseman stunt. To a modern reader, if anything he says about Theodora is true, hers was a pitiable childhood that saw her being molested both publically and in the quasi-private of rich men’s dinner parties from a very young age. That she managed to make of herself the heroic fighter who stands her ground during the Nika riot in the Wars (yes, Procopius again) says a lot for her.

            Would be a great TV show. (Her later life, I mean, not the geese and the creepy dinner parties.) We even have a fictionalized fantasy version for the base: Guy Gavriel Kaye’s Lord of Emperors is pretty much “Game of Thrones as it should have been.”

            @Le Maistre Chat

            What makes it even better is that he did a panegyric of Justinian’s great works, too, as well as a serious, sober, Thucydidean style History with a capital H. The Convent of Repentance that Theodora made for the women who had been practicing her, uh, line of work and wanted to get out of it shows up in both the Buildings, as practically the greatest display of official charity ever, and in the Secret History. You can guess which one features ex-prostitutes hurling themselves to their deaths.

          • Lambert says:

            Oh, you’re talking about the lady who allegedly did the stuff with the geese?

          • John Schilling says:

            Independent of any grudge Procopius may have had with Theodora specifically, numerous sources attest to the general overlap between “actress” and “prostitute” across the Hellenic world.

          • Matt M says:

            Harvey Weinstein may suggest that things perhaps haven’t changed quite as much as we’d like to believe…

          • MPG says:

            @John Schilling

            If you’re replying to me, I think I did say that. I only think–to split hairs, as one must–that “euphemism” is too simple. Is it a euphemism to call a late 19th-century stage-star an actress? Their reputations were often poor. How about a burlesque dancer who, uh, moonlights? That she is also a prostitute doesn’t mean she isn’t actually genuinely good at an art that also trades (as a lot of acting still does) in sex appeal.

            EDIT: To my last parenthesis, what Matt M said. The difference is that Theodora doesn’t seem to have had much choice about entering her profession.

          • It’s pretty clear reading Casanova that actresses and dancers in the 18th c. were expected to be sexually loose. But the intended career path was to kept mistress, not prostitute.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @DavidFriedman: Unless Procopius was lying in the Secret History, actresses in Constantinople weren’t that lucky, getting molested at dinner parties rather than dripping out sexual favors serial-monogamously in hopes of following the tenure track to mistress.
            It really does speak to Theodora’s character for her to grow from sexually abused minor to practically a warrior when Not!soccer hooligans overthrew her government.

          • Erusian says:

            Well, maybe. In my experience, historians tend to see, rightly, that Procopius is a being a misogynistic jerk (however plausible his political ends) in that part of the Secret History, and to assume, perhaps charitably, that the “older and baser profession” was only a secondary part of a job-description that can fairly be summed up as “actress, in the good really iffy old-fashioned sense.”

            Procopius doesn’t accuse her of being especially disreputable for an actress, just of being an actress. Accusing her of being a disreputable actress would have been redundant in Roman terms: being an actress carried a lifelong stigma legally equivalent to a prostitute.

            Moreover, a lot of the rescuing of Theodora relies on believing every positive thing Procopius says about her and ignoring every negative thing. Being an actress is the least of Procopius’ accusations. For example, he accuses her of murdering her son from a previous relationship so that he wouldn’t come between her and Justinian. In spite of the fact Justinian was supposedly fine with it (regarding him a bit like a bastard child), she was worried it would remind him of her previous lovers.

            Further, the incident where she stood up to Justinian as he fled is a literary parallel to an earlier incident in Roman history. It’s subtle but Procopius is (very, very subtly) comparing Justinian to Tiberius and the Pannonian mutiny, which was not a flattering comparison. Which isn’t to say he made it up out of whole cloth: there’s a lot of contemporary evidence that Theodora was held in high regard by Justinian (though not, as some accounts desperately want, as his equal).

            With all that said, the broad outlines of the story are still impressive. But I don’t think scrubbing her of her negative qualities serves well. She can be a woman whose father died early, whose mother grifted to get by, who became an actress at an early age, and who worked and married into power and influence and became an important pillar for her husband while simultaneously not being his equal, being a murderer and torturer, and embarking on ill-conceived schemes because of her ignorance of court politics or how to make policy.

            Indeed, in some ways this is a more complete story: one of the ways the Nika riots ended was by Justinian playing sports factions against each other. And one of thing that resounds through Theodora’s early life is her family’s involvement in those politics. It’s very easy to see the hand of the little girl whose mother begged a sports faction for charity (and received it) as an adult turning to that faction and using them to support her husband’s bid to retain the throne (and rewarding them afterward).

          • MPG says:

            @Erusian

            Accusing her of being a disreputable actress would have been redundant in Roman terms: being an actress carried a lifelong stigma legally equivalent to a prostitute.

            Yes, of course.

            Procopius doesn’t accuse her of being especially disreputable for an actress, just of being an actress.

            I don’t think Procopius’ audience would have taken for granted that every actress was so nymphomaniacal as he accuses Theodora of being. (EDIT: I described it, then thought better of it. You doubtless know the gory details; others may consult Secret History 9, at their own peril, here). The line about her procuring abortions constantly also suggests unusual depravity.

            Those slurs cannot have been utterly in–how shall I put it?–in what passed then for poor taste. If it provoked revulsion at the writer and not Theodora, it failed. But it is so absurdly over the top as to constitute just such an accusation of being “especially disreputable for an actress,” just as Justinian is, in the Secret History, especially corrupt for an autocrat.

            The proper comparandae for Theodora are probably the most prominent women in modern autocracies, and some of them probably are very impressive, and equally inhumane. So I would agree in principle with the rest of what you say.

            (EDIT: In other words, I think we agree on the actress part, too? I’m really just saying that “bad, even for an actress,” with all the sneering you can put on “actress” is what Procopius wants us to think. We might read between the lines and see a more complicated, and human, figure, is all. And we can do that even for Nero, maybe especially for Nero.)

          • Erusian says:

            I don’t think Procopius’ audience would have taken for granted that every actress was so nymphomaniacal as he accuses Theodora of being. (EDIT: I described it, then thought better of it. You doubtless know the gory details; others may consult Secret History 9, at their own peril, here). The line about her procuring abortions constantly also suggests unusual depravity.

            Considering raping an actress was a lesser crime than raping a non-actress, I don’t think that’s true. The abortions thing is meant to link her to murder (again) and to emphasize her religious unorthodoxy (she was a minority and abortion was associated with paganism).

            But it is so absurdly over the top as to constitute just such an accusation of being “especially disreputable for an actress,” just as Justinian is, in the Secret History, especially corrupt for an autocrat.

            Just because something is “over the top” doesn’t constitute a good reason for disbelieving it. I agree that Procopius is describing a woman who is bad in ways that extend beyond being an actress. But he also praises her at times and this praise often gets swallowed without the same level of examination. For example, his accusations that she secretly ran the empire is often take with much, much less skepticism than the criticisms people find unpalatable.

            The proper comparandae for Theodora are probably the most prominent women in modern autocracies, and some of them probably are very impressive, and equally inhumane. So I would agree in principle with the rest of what you say.

            Sure. I objected to the glorification of Kim Yo Jong too. My issue is not that gender bias isn’t an interesting lens (though I think it should be combined with class and religious bias in Theodora’s case). It’s that there’s an annoying tendency to erase negative parts of women that female histories want to lift up, especially in the pop side of things. It reminds me of the “More. Female. Dictators.” meme.

            (Likewise, there’s a tendency to make influential women liberals even when they weren’t. Jane Austen is particularly abused in this regard.)

            (EDIT: In other words, I think we agree on the actress part, too? I’m really just saying that “bad, even for an actress,” with all the sneering you can put on “actress” is what Procopius wants us to think. We might read between the lines and see a more complicated, and human, figure, is all. And we can do that even for Nero, maybe especially for Nero.)

            I’m not even sure if you read the full of Procopius you don’t get a more human figure. Some of the mistakes she makes are understandable even in Procopius’s dim view of women and she does do some things right in the narrative. But the opposite of what I just said is that more misogynist writers take the opposite view. And of course, you can easily read between the lines or put a historical context to add more color.

            Nero, meanwhile, suffers an even weirder dichotomy. He’s either this misunderstood artistic soul or the equivalent to Caligula. Again, either interpretation is far too extreme for the evidence we have.

      • John Schilling says:

        A modern military movie about a warrior aristocrat hoping to earn his knighthood could hit a lot of war movie beats without either being overly romantic or cynically subverting previous romanticism.

        The first third or so of Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” is sort of this, but being compressed into a third of a movie means that a lot of stuff gets skipped over. I did appreciate their taking the time to show him taking possession of a very run-down Barony and trying to build it into something he could be proud of.

      • Alejandro says:

        Imagine a sports movie about taking down a gladiator opponent or beating a team. Even better, there was often interesting politics involved in the various teams. Seems like a good come from behind sports underdog story.

        The first and second seasons of the Spartacus TV show are close to this.

        • Erusian says:

          Thanks, I’ll take a look.

          • Nornagest says:

            Spartacus is very much in the 300 vein of sword-and-sandal movies, unfortunately. There’s some nods to accuracy, but expect that all to get thrown out the window if there’s a chance to show somebody’s tits or somebody’s oiled thews or somebody’s messy decapitation.

      • MPG says:

        Despite their place in the popular culture, we’re still largely ensnared by Christian propaganda about Roman sports. The coliseum could be cruel.

        It’s not all propaganda, or not quite. A lot of the modern belief in the unique cruelty of gladiatorial combat arises from a confusion between it and the other kinds of killing that happened in the arena. Seneca, who rather enjoyed a good fight between two properly armed and trained men, calls the slaughter of convicts “mere homicide” in Letter 7.3. The latter, of course, was what Christian martyrs faced, often in a virtually pornographic display of violence (Perpetua and Felicity are brought out into the arena naked, at first).

        Of course, Christian preachers were against it all, even the bullfighting, and on grounds that often don’t seem especially strong. Augustine, for one, seems mostly to have felt that fan enthusiasm and fan rivalry both looked too much like what demons would enjoy. He knew that there were people who just went for a good time, without getting too carried away, but a philosophy of moderate enjoyment of sport doesn’t really enter into view. Granted the sheer scale of hooliganism that could occur (as theodidactus says, “a soccer riot that overthrew the government”), maybe that is understandable.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Augustine, for one, seems mostly to have felt that fan enthusiasm and fan rivalry both looked too much like what demons would enjoy.

          I wish he was around now to give his opinion on elections.

          • MPG says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Oh, we can only dream.

            John Chrysostom would have been even more fun.

        • Erusian says:

          I think it’s fair to call it propaganda but I did try to go out of my way to point out it wasn’t all lies. Christians were murdered in pornographic displays of violence and it really was linked to pagan religious rituals. However, only the latter applied to gladiators. Since most were pagan, presumably they didn’t mind the religious undertones.

          Christian objections stood on three basic pillars: Firstly, it was a pagan ritual. Secondly, it was murderous. Thirdly, it was immoral on grounds of excessive passion. (Reason four, arguably, was that Christians had died. But this didn’t stop them from adopting other institutions.) We really only sympathize with number two but they were all important at the time. Indeed, one of the reasons hippodrome racing lasted longer was because it was the one with the least pagan religious significance. Bull fighting and gladiator games had much more direct links to pagan funeral and religious rituals. While chariot racing was done at pagan funerals, it was in a vein more similar to (say) an archery contest (which was also common).

          • MPG says:

            Indeed, one of the reasons hippodrome racing lasted longer was because it was the one with the least pagan religious significance.

            Chariot races are routinely linked to pagan ludi. Those will matter far more in late antiquity than funerary rituals. Putting it differently, I’m not sure the hippodrome’s much different from the beast-fights. Augustine, for example, and what I’ve seen of John Chrysostom show very little concern for the ongoing “pagan” quality of any festival. The pagan roots, sure, at least in polemic, but it’s a minor theme in sermons. They’re churchmen, not imperial officials, but if they’re not worried about it, probably laymen minded to continue the established entertainments are not. I’d suspect–as at least some others do–that they were just too expensive to keep up.

          • Erusian says:

            The Church was going through the oppression and elimination of the last vestiges of paganism even as Rome fell. For example, the Popes banning Lupercalia and so on. We don’t know their exact reasoning but we do know that horse racing was eventually allowed while gladiator games and hunts were not. We also know that horse racing was a later addition and one more associated with a series of contests of skill, whereas gladiator games and their hunts and animal rituals were all much older (going back to the Bronze Age and with echoes in Homer) and more linked directly to pagan religious ritual (there were secular races, there were not secular sacrifices).

            We know they said it was the paganism. It’s, of course, possible to look at other motivations like political struggles or cost.

      • mendax says:

        I’ve long wanted to see a domestic drama about building a castle.

        Pillars of the Earth is roughly this. A drama (domestic and various others) about building a cathedral. Doesn’t stick to the personal nature, but interleaves it with a few other tales.

      • albatross11 says:

        And, of course, the classic heroes journey is highly encouraged by aristocratic hereditary societies. Imagine the classic hero’s journey told about an actual heir to the throne. He’s some baron and then he gets word some distant relative died and he’s now the King of wherever. But there’s an evil usurper. Throw in some natural conflict about liking his home and having never been there and you’ve got an interesting conflict.

        This is more-or-less the setup to _The Goblin Emperor_, except the heir was previously in disfavor and was kept in a remote country estate.

    • gbdub says:

      Community but set at Trinity College in the 1660s

      • keaswaran says:

        I guess it could have a very timely plague year season where they’re all social distancing and don’t have to even maintain the fiction of a class that they go to together. On Isaac’s uncontrollable Christmas/birthday special, he can’t tell the difference between Shakespearean genre productions and real life, and ends up accidentally inventing calculus.

    • AG says:

      You get a lot of this in theater. Regietheater is rife in opera, and rare now is the straightforward Shakespeare adaptation. There’s also the trend of recasting grand conflict as petty high school/college spats.

      Executive cabinet discussions as rap battles.
      Norse gods as corrupt oil salesmen.
      50s farce Falstaff.
      The Trojan Frat War.

    • Lambert says:

      Only Fools and Aurochs, a comedy following the half-baked get-rich-quick schemes of Sumerian trader Ea-Nasir.

    • John Schilling says:

      The third movie in Zach Snyder’s “300” trilogy, focused on Themistocles’ second career as a provincial governor in the cosmopolitan and not-evil Persian Empire. Force Snyder to make it in the style of The West Wing, along with a parallel making-of documentary where we get to watch Zach Snyder’s head explode.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Well Frank Miller and Zack Snyder already provided the cosmopolitanism. You could force Snyder to depict not-evil minor characters as towering black NBA players, disabled ogres with hand prosthetics, ninjas with clawed toes, etc.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      If I’m allowed to submit things that already exist, the Laundry Files series postulates that being a spy is less James Bond and more Dilbert, with most of your life spent filling out paperwork and navigating a soul-crushing bureaucracy where operational security means you will get in serious trouble for misplacing paperclips.

    • theodidactus says:

      I’ll jump in with another idea of mine: Gilgamesh and Enkidu have buddy-cop dynamics. Gilgamesh is the clean-cut adult with wisdom and experience, Enkidu is the impulsive badass who burns the rulebook every chance he gets.

    • keaswaran says:

      My boyfriend and I had an idea the other day for a TV show following the hijinks of Billie Eilish playing a 19-year-old who came to San Francisco for the “Summer of Love” in 1967, trying to make her way in a totally anachronistic world of high real estate prices and intersectional multigenerational strife. The name of the show would be “OK, Boomer”, and that would be the catchphrase of the middle-aged neighbors constantly getting fed up at today’s earnest youth. The soundtrack could feature both classic psychedelic pop and contemporary music like that of Billie Eilish.

    • Bergil says:

      I’d like to see something set in the Roman Empire that uses accents that map roman preconceptions to modern American preconceptions (I imagine northern America for the Italics, southern American for the Celts, and British for the Greeks), rather then adhering to the convention that everyone prior to 1776 is British.

    • Concavenator says:

      A spy thriller set in the Eastern Mediterranean at the very end of the Late Bronze Age, circa 1200 BCE. A game of “world” powers tied by diplomacy and trade, vying for supremacy on the background of natural disasters (eruptions, earthquakes, droughts), succession crises and usurpations (e.g. the Harem Conspiracy against Ramses III), colonial wars (e.g. between Egypt and Hittites for the control of Cyprus and Canaan), popular rebellions, and religious movements.
      The resurgent Middle Assyrians, with their mass impalements and “universal kings”, work well enough as the Evil Empire — keep the secret of iron smelting out of their hands, or they’ll be able to field the largest army in history and take over the world! (Sprinkle in Phoenician human sacrifices and Babylonian temple prostitution for extra edge)
      And, depending on how much anachronism or history/myth blurring you’re willing to tolerate, you can work in the Thera Eruption, Akhenaten’s heresy, Zoroaster inventing monotheism, the Trojan War, and the Exodus. Alternatevily, focus on the final part of the LBA Collapse and make a post-apocalyptic story.

  26. baconbits9 says:

    In more ‘this recession is inconceivably large’ news, the BLS estimates that its own headline number of 14.7% unemployment actually understates the UE rate by roughly 5 percentage points. For a bit of context the UE rate in November of 2007, the last month before the official start of the GFC recession was 4.7%, and the UE rate hit a peak of 10%, for an total increase of 5.3 percentage points. So this recession is so large that a single methodological issue in collecting data for it causes a skew nearly on par with the entire UE change for the previous recession which occurred over nearly 2 full years.

    The recovery aspect is also terrifying. It took almost 4 years from that peak of 10% to regain half of the UE rate increase. At that rate, with 20% as a peak (which it won’t be) we would be looking at 11.75% UE first quarter of 2024. Even at double the rate of improvement we would be looking at at almost 12% UE in early 2022. To get UE down to high single digits by Q1 of 2021 you need the UE rate to improve ~8x as fast as it did following the 2009 peak.

    • Creutzer says:

      While we’re on this topic: does someone have a view on why the stock market seems to just not care?

      • baconbits9 says:

        Whatever you do you can’t view the stock market in a vacuum. In all financial theory investments are about opportunity cost. Treasury rates are currently very low, so if you take the 2 year rate of ~0.18% right now as the risk free rate and the ~1.8*% historical dividend rate of the S&P 500 you would rather own the S&P 500 right now even if you thought that it would decrease by 3% over the next 2 years.

        Beyond this the Federal Reserve has bought a few trillion dollars in assets in the past couple of months which doesn’t make price discovery a functioning aspect of markets.

        *to high since a lot of companies are cutting their dividends right now, but even at 0.9% over the next two years you would take a small hit to own the S&P in raw

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Do you think it’s going to crater at some point when the reality of 30 million unemployed people catches up to us? I’m still sitting on the money I was going to play around with waiting for good deals, and my index fund I cashed out and parked.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yes, my macro view is the same and I think all the preliminary reopening numbers have supported it so far. I know full well that a bounce could be months long and represent large gains from the bottom which is why when I mentioned that I was putting short positions back on 2 weeks ago that they were small in size (the latest one I put on represented ~0.25% of our total portfolio at the maximum loss).

            My main concern right now is trying to get ahead of any possible spike in inflation as that is the most likely thing that would hurt our bond position in the near term.

          • Mycale says:

            I’ll second baconbits’ comments. The current state of the economy is mindboggling, and I don’t think the Federal Reserve’s money printer can just keep going forever. That said, I do agree that it’s critical to recognize that a significant reason that stocks haven’t tanked as much as you’d expect is because the alternative assets also look terrible — e.g. who wants to buy bonds with an effective negative after-tax, after-inflation yield? That can’t be sustainable forever, surely?

            That said, I have very little confidence in my ability to time the market, so I haven’t sold any of my stocks, and I’m continuing to buy more with new contributions (although I’ve dialed down the contribution rates a little to beef up my emergency fund / cash holdings, just because of uncertainty about maintaining employment). I figure if this ends up being the recession that kills the Boglehead style of investing, then investors are all basically screwed anyway.

      • WoollyAI says:

        Best guess, the markets rationally expect another bailout, roughly equivalent in size to the CARES Act. Which means roughly $4 trillion injected into the economy of ~$21 trillion. So, while the market may crash at some point, it won’t as long as the government is willing and able to throw massive stimulus at the problem.

      • matkoniecz says:

        Everyone expects that losses will be nationalized, at no cost to owners of companies? (AKA repeated bailout).

      • DarkTigger says:

        I have been rebuffed for it here before, but I am team “Money printer goes BRRRRR”
        on this issue.
        Now I’m sure the actual strategies enacted by the Fed are a little more sophisticated, then simply printing money, and buying up bonds, but on the bottom line this is pretty much what happens. Until now this seems to be enough to prevent an liquidity crissis on top of the epidemic, and it seems to wash a lot of money into the stock market.
        But I’m not sure it will be enough if/when this takes a couple of months more.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I am also on this team, sent printing presses into overdrive! Fortunately it appears there is far less resistance to it than during previous recession (yeah, I know about German Constitutional Court, it still counts as “less resistance than last time”). Optimistically perhaps policymakers learned useful lessons after all.

    • Cliff says:

      I don’t think “rate of improvement of the UE rate” is a meaningful statistic. Markets don’t predict anything like what your chartism predicts and I’ll take markets over chartism any day.

      • baconbits9 says:

        What market prediction are you talking about?

        10 year bond rates are 0.65%, 5 year forward inflation expectations are 1.5%, which is lower than every reading from Feb 2009 to Feb 2016.

        your chartism predicts

        Sounds like you are trying to be insulting without knowing what chartism is, or what a prediction is.

        • Lambert says:

          Bloody working mens’ clubs, sticking their provincial noses in a hideously broken constitutional system. Wasn’t the Reform Act of ’32 enough for them?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Also oil markets aren’t ‘predicting’ oil prices back to pre corona levels for 8 years. Pretty much only the stock market is signalling a decent outlook, and the stock market is notorious for crashing from highs while people were shaking their heads asking how it could maintain its level. In 2000 the S&P climbed back up to 1520 in August, only 7 points off its high from 3 months earlier before starting a downleg that ate 45% of its price, in 1930 the dow rallied 45% off its low in 5 months (current rally ~ 40% of its low) in the middle of the GD.

          • keaswaran says:

            Isn’t the stock market really mostly predicting that amazing performance by Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft (and perhaps a few niche makers of webcams and athleisure clothing) will partially offset major losses everywhere else?

    • broblawsky says:

      One reason why the UE rate was so sluggish to recover post-2008 is because the construction industry was so badly damaged. In this case, the main damage seems to be to the leisure & hospitality industry, which seems likely to recover somewhat faster, since the demand is less flexible than it is in the case of housing.

      That being said, I also doubt that we’re going to have UE < 10% by Q1 2021. It'll probably take until the end of 2021 for things to start really recovering.

      • baconbits9 says:

        It took 4 years for leisure and hospitality to hit its pre recession peak again in terms of total employed persons, and 18 months after the end of the 2008 recession, so much faster than construction.

        I am not optimistic on that front though. Leisure only took a small hit in 2008 relatively speaking, with only a ~4.5% decline in total employed persons peak to trough while construction was more like a 27% decline, but now now leisure has taken an almost 49% decline with over 8 million people already out of work in that sector. I wouldn’t expect the recovery of one of the lightest hit sectors in 2008 to be the baseline for the hardest hit sector in 2020.

    • Skeptic says:

      I think it’s almost impossible to know. We’ve never run the “government intentionally shuts down X% of the economy for months” experiment before.

      I think it comes down to how long the shutdowns last. Market looks like it predicts a relatively short shutdown. Which of course doesn’t mean that will happen.

      Will consumer demand pop back up after being held back for months, or will everyone be too terrified to spend? One positive here is that household debt is in a much different place than in 2008.

      Tl;dr
      Shrug, who knows

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        There’s talk of ‘revenge buying’ lately – people splurging when lockdown is over. I can’t help wondering whether this has elements of hope / propaganda, but some of the links seem legit and are also talking about changes in buying patterns, more e-commerce etc.

        I do picture people buying things like new computers etc. with the money they have saved. Whereas hospitality, travel etc. may be in the dumps for quite a while.

        • albatross11 says:

          I believe there is a substantial chance that post-lockdown, we just have another flare-up 2-3 months later. COVID-19 may have a seasonal component, in which case we may see a big flare-up in the fall. Based on that, I’ll be making purchases with an eye to things that will serve my family well if there’s another lockdown or partial lockdown or if lockdowns are politically impossible but the hospitals are jammed with pneumonia cases and we want to stay the hell out of the stores.

          • DinoNerd says:

            I feel the same way. I’ve been able to get most of the things we’ve needed to cope with the lockdown by mail order, or sometimes by finding them in retail establishments that were deemed essential for other reasons.

            But I’ll be grabbing anything we haven’t been able to get that way at the first opportunity, and maybe starting some medium term projects as well (e.g. a greater variety of vegetables in our garden than we’ve been able to source so far).

      • m.alex.matt says:

        This is it. We have no idea what the next several years are going to look like. You cannot compare 2008 to this, the conditions are wildly different across every metric you care to mention except the headline macroeconomic ones.

        Two positive factors:

        1. This event isn’t the market suddenly discovering a whole market segment is wildly overpopulated. Plenty of construction jobs simply never came back/only returned a decade later (peak construction employment was in 2006 — only matched last year in 2019). There is no unsustainable labor market here, this is the labor market being shut down intentionally, ready to be re-opened at government command.

        2. The Fed was overly cautious in 2008 and 2009. It took several years of low growth and low employment growth for them to pursue QE at scale. The Fed is already running full bore right now. The dams have been opened on this one and were opened before the lockdowns really spread everywhere. Monetary policy is going to be extremely accommodating during this recovery.

        In reality we cannot know what will happen until it does. But I think it’s safe to say that >10% unemployment going into 2022 is the VERY pessimistic case. <10% unemployment going into 2021 is probably the comparably optimistic case, but <10% unemployment sometime during 2021 and <5% unemployment going into 2022 isn't out of the question.

        • baconbits9 says:

          This event isn’t the market suddenly discovering a whole market segment is wildly overpopulated

          Of course it is. The leisure industry has dropped ~ 8 million jobs in 6 months.

          There is no unsustainable labor market here, this is the labor market being shut down intentionally

          Do you not understand that this is an unsustainable labor market? The government shutting everything down for months was unprecedented and now is not only a reality in action but also a higher probability of reoccurring in the future. The only way this position makes sense is if you think lockdowns are going to be lifted to 100% re-employment plus the government never threatening another lockdown ever again. Anything short of that and you have clear excess capacity in the leisure industry (pre covid) that will take years to fill.

          The Fed was overly cautious in 2008 and 2009.

          This is just another myth by people who were disproven in real time. The Fed started loosening their policy in 2007, and they combined that with fiscal policy with the first stimulus bill being signed in Feb 2008. The FFR was cut from 5.25 to 2.00 in less than a year while fiscal authorities were adding spending (eliminating the tired monetarist response that the CB would neutralize any spending increases with tighter policy).

          It took several years of low growth and low employment growth for them to pursue QE at scale.

          Ah yes, this old canard. QE1 was 600 billion dollars and was launched in November 2008 on the back of a 1.75 point cut to the FFR between September and December. The Fed had expanded its balance sheet by ~$1 trillion by March 2009, and it continued to expand by another ~$400 billion through June 2010. Meanwhile the ARRA was singed in Feb 2009 with fiscal spending in 2009 being ~450 billion higher than in 2008 on top of ~300 billion more in 08 vs 07, for a net of ~ 1 trillion in additional spending over the 2007 baseline by the end of 2009.

          So from the end of 2007 to the end of 2009 we have a 4 percentage point cut in interest rates, $1 trillion in additional federal spending and over $1 trillion in balance sheet expansion by the Fed.

          Monetary policy is going to be extremely accommodating during this recovery.

          Oh no, you have it backwards. Monetary policy is extremely accommodating right now before the recovery is allowed to start, and policy becomes less impactful over time. Every future action will be relatively smaller due to the massive actions already taken.

    • Figures from a past recession aren’t very relevant, because this isn’t the same phenomenon. A better analogy would be WWII. If you count the soldiers as people who are not allowed to work (because they are fighting instead), just as someone shut in his house today is not allowed to work, then the unemployment rate was high. But it didn’t stay high when the war was over.

      Suppose the whole lockdown had only been for a week, after which we had discovered a cure. For that week the unemployment figure would have been very high. Do you think it would still have been high a month later?

      • Lambert says:

        OTOH, the War was a very loud fiscal stimulus programme that was economically ruinous for two of the winning empires.

      • baconbits9 says:

        A better analogy would be WWII. If you count the soldiers as people who are not allowed to work (because they are fighting instead), just as someone shut in his house today is not allowed to work, then the unemployment rate was high. But it didn’t stay high when the war was over.

        The official UE rate rose from 1.2% at the end of 1944 to 6.6% at the end of 1949. It was at 9.9% in 1941 when the US officially entered the war, so back of the envelope the equivalent of 50% of those who were ‘unemployed’ as soldiers were still unemployed 4 years after the war ended, and the peak UE rate for 1949 was 6.8% (ignoring a peak of 7.9% in October 1949 which looks like it is an aberration) making it more like 53% over 4 years. So ignoring a bunch of things we shouldn’t ignore (LFPR) to make it really simple- the post WW2 demobilization took roughly 4 years to hit peak UE after the end of WW2 and another 2 years after that for the UE rate to drop below 4% and (eyeballing) 3 years to hit the ‘natural’ rate of UE.

        If we are going to use WW2 as our baseline without making any adjustments for the fact that the UE rate now is 2x the UE rate entering WW2 we could easily be looking at a 6-7 year adjustment period from the start of reopening to the point where we are back to ‘full’ employment.

      • John Schilling says:

        The soldiers who took time off from their jobs to go fight World War II, did benefit from having a bunch of people who weren’t normally allowed/expected to work keeping those jobs running for them in the meantime. That’s got to have minimized the economic disruption quite a bit, in a manner with no current parallel.

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          That doesn’t sound right, a large part of the US industrial capacity was building things like bombs, tanks and fighter aircraft and that all stopped at the same time as the soldiers came back. The jobs that existed during war time disappeared at the same time as all that labor became available.

          • John Schilling says:

            They were building bombs, tanks, and fighter aircraft in factories that had been building cars, locomotives, sewing machines, etc, etc, and went right back to building their civilian products when the war was over. Swapping out the dies in a stamping mill, doesn’t make the jobs disappear.

            Possibly there were some jobs that did disappear, but I don’t think they represented a significant part of the economy. Certainly nobody was shutting down all the restaurants and theaters for the duration.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Swapping out the dies in a stamping mill, doesn’t make the jobs disappear.

            The company running the factory lost 100% of its purchase orders, and had to re-tool the thing because it was producing something for which demand basically went to zero. There’s a reason Keynesian economists were really worried about it.

            So there’s WWII where factories went Cars -> Tanks -> Cars and that went reasonably well, while restaurants going Dine-in -> Nothing -> Dine-in is expected to be painful? There’s literally zero retooling needed this time, and the employees were only out of the labor force for 4 months instead of 4 years, so probably no retraining needed either. I don’t think we’re looking at much infrastructure decay either, not on this short of a time scale?

            Unless your position is that once a role ceases to exist, it is much harder to bring back into existence? Highly seasonal industries seem like a counterpoint to this idea (and restaurants have both high turnover and failure rates, so their hiring processes should be relatively streamlined).

          • baconbits9 says:

            There’s a reason Keynesian economists were really worried about it.

            For the same reason that Keynesians thought that the UE rate would top out between 7 and 8% during the GFC- Kyenesians are generally wrong when it comes to predictions.

            The company running the factory lost 100% of its purchase orders, and had to re-tool the thing because it was producing something for which demand basically went to zero.

            There is a massive difference between a durable good like a car and a consumption good like a meal in a restaurant. Almost no new cars were built during WW2 and so there were 4 years of back orders to fill, however if my family typically goes out to eat once a week, but hasn’t gone out for 3 months due to lockdown I am not likely to take them out to dinner every night for 14 nights to make up for those lost meals, nor am I likely to take them out twice a week for 3 months. Likewise a monthly haircut only needs one haircut to compensate for the 3 missed haircuts, nor am I going to go on two cruises or make two trips to my parents house to make up for lost travel.

            Most of the immediate boom after WW2 was in durable goods production- housing, automobiles, infrastructure etc. Currently the opposite exists- there is more housing than there is demand for, there are rental car fleets sitting idle and threatening to swamp the used car market should their companies go under, and animals being slaughtered due to supply chain problems.

            This isn’t WW2 where industry was being used to the tilt, with parts wearing out and few replacements and basic (for an industrial economy) wants going unfulfilled. If you were a trucking company getting paid to ship goods across the US during WW2 you were probably being used at above capacity and struggling to find things like replacement tires on the market so the first thing you did at the end of the war would be to put in a massive order of tires to replace the ones you have been driving thousands of miles on and hiring mechanics to repair all jury rigged trucks and probably ordered new fleets of trucks.

            And then there was the baby boom, a massive shift in population demographics which caused an increase in highly specific demand that needed to be filled which helped sustain the post war surge in demand.

    • edmundgennings says:

      I think that there is good reason to think that the economy will recover much faster from this than other recesions. On the other hand stock market prices care about nominal not real future earnings. If the fed adopts the policy “Money printer goes BRRRRR” nominal future earnings will not be that reduced by covid.

      • On the other hand stock market prices care about nominal not real future earnings.

        I don’t think that’s correct. The stock market price is an estimate of the present value of future earnings. If there is a large inflation, the interest rates that those earnings are discounted back to the present at will rise accordingly. So the real value of the future earnings, not their nominal value, is what matters.

        • simon says:

          I’m not convinced that interest rates would necessarily rise to match the inflation. If there’s no safe store of value, people might have to take real losses no matter the investment.

  27. Aapje says:

    Any idea how the fight between the German Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will shake out?

    For those who don’t know, the Constitutional Court ruled that the European Central Bank (ECB) was overstepping its mandate and was making decisions with far reaching political consequences, without considering proportionality. Essentially, the argument is that the ECB is acting like a paperclip maximizer, but then with their monetary goals, while completely ignoring the negative consequences with regard to “public debt, personal savings, pension and retirement schemes, real estate prices and the keeping afloat of economically unviable companies.” In other words, the court argues that it is not permissible to potentially sacrifice everything else to uphold the Euro (or at least, doing what the ECB thinks is necessary for that goal).

    The Court also argued that German parliament has the sole constitutional right to budget, but that the monetary policy creates a liability that the German parliament never signed off on, or can limit. So the ECB is violating the German constitution. Furthermore, it argued that the European Court of Justice went beyond its legal authority in approving these decisions.

    It ruled that in three months, the German central bank is no longer allowed to participate in several programs, like buying bonds.

    This ruling seems extremely risky to the EU, because it strikes at several immense weaknesses:

    – The heavy dependence of the EU on national institutions. If nation states refuse to play ball, it is very hard for the EU to get their way. We’ve seen a lot of cases of sabotage in the past, where states simply obstructed rules they didn’t like. However, this is a case where the German court forbids the German central bank from executing EU policy. If it is actually the case that the ECJ only has final jurisdiction over EU institutions, while the national courts have final jurisdiction over national institutions, EU power can be immensely curtailed if the nations so desire.

    – Who decides what the limits are to EU authority, the ECJ or the national courts? What happens if they disagree? What happens if nations disagree with each other?

    – The backdoor implementation of a transfer union (permanent transfers from the north to the south) through monetary policy without a legal basis or democratic legitimacy. The ECB was created as a supposedly politically neutral institution that would do minimal interventions to keep inflation near the target and such. In reality, the huge differences between EU states that threaten the Euro, means that upholding the Euro requires far-reaching interventions, with a large political component.

    So what are the options for the future?:

    1. Implement these programs without the Germans. One problem is that Germany is the EU’s biggest purse. Another is that this creates a dilemma for the other countries. Why would they run these risks if Germany doesn’t? We might see more countries opt out.

    2. The European Commission has threatened to file a case with the ECJ. Presumably, this court will side with itself. However, if the German court doesn’t back down, the German central bank will have to decide between obeying the ECJ or their constitutional court. Doing the former could be interpreted as a coup by the German central bank, where the German central bank is no longer obeying the German constitution (you might even see the German military occupy the German central bank). Yet if the German central bank obeys their constitutional court, what recourse does the EU have?

    3. Put the liabilities of these program on the EU, rather than the nation states, hoping that they can have their cake and eat it too (tell investors that the collateral for these programs is strong, yet tell the nation states that the liability is not theirs and they can just let the EU go bankrupt if shit hits the fan).

    4. Somehow convince the German constitutional court to reverse it’s opinion (good luck with that).

    5. End these programs that the German court deemed to violate the German constitution and/or (partially) implement them differently. For example, have German parliament explicitly agree to them, have the ECB write papers calculating the downsides of the policies and argue that they are reasonable, etc.

    In my view, 5 would be the reasonable, democratic and sensible thing to do. However, they may not deem it feasible. For example, it would mean having parliamentarians explicitly vote for a transfer union, which is not that popular in certain countries. You can easily get into a situation where either some nation states refuse to go along with that or many people within the nation states rebel (or both).

    • Lambert says:

      Would 5 hand veto power not only to Germany but the other NCBs that hold large amounts of ECB capital (France, Italy)?

      • Aapje says:

        All countries, I would say. Getting it passed as a proper treaty would require an unanimous decision by all member states. The difficulty of getting that done is presumably why they haven’t done so in the first place.

        Various people have been proposing having different rules for different countries (with a lead group integrating more), but no normally selfish country will want to underwrite non-participating countries. Due to Nazi guilt, Germany has been most willing to accept deals that work out relatively poorly for themselves, which is one of the things that makes the EU relatively cohesive in the first place (other countries get German money and Germany gets called Nazis for not being even more generous to feel like they are making up for the past). However, they are the ones refusing here. France and Italy want a transfer union because they (directly or indirectly through lowered interest rates) want German (and Dutch) money and when Germany pulls out, they will be the ones on the hook. That’s not the plan.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I thought what Germany mostly got was a wildly underpriced currency to boost its mercantilist economic model.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, I get told that the Dutch also benefit that way. I still don’t see why.

            An underpriced currency reduces real incomes and boosts employment. However, the main issue of Germany and The Netherlands is stagnating wages, while unemployment is low. Due to the lack of workers, we’ve seen a ton of migrants coming. So the Dutch pay with lower buying power and declining working conditions, while the (top-tier) Polish profit from having well-paying jobs.

            Or if you tease it out more, the Dutch elite profits, while the common man doesn’t.

            Nothing against the Polish, but I don’t see where the common Dutch or German person profits in this scenario.

    • zqed says:

      1. The short-term effects of this round to zero. The ECB can scrap the PSPP (officially because it served its purpose, unrelated to the judgment), and introduce a new programme which is the same as the old programme. Since there is no court ruling on PSPP2, Germany can participate. The German constitutional court works slowly, so it won’t rule PSPP2 unconstitutional for some time, if ever.

      2. If the German government is willing to go for a political solution, then this will be easy. On average, the German constitution changes once every 17 months. If the current German leadership has the will to preserve the EU in its current form, they can amend it with the sentence “Germany exercises certain powers arising from the Basic Law together with other member states through the European Union institutions”, which already has an analogue in many member state constitutions. They would need to convince 68 of the 311 opposition MPs to vote with them: AfD and Die Linke probably welcome this ruling, but I don’t think Alliance or FDP would need much persuasion. (I think this is fairly unlikely, but not impossible)

      3. If, however, the German goverment is playing 4D chess, and the supreme court decision is a prelude to some kind of German power play in the EU, then God help you all. (I think this is really unlikely.)

      • Aapje says:

        1. I don’t think it works that way. If it did, constitutions would be pointless as parliaments could just evade it by continuously making almost the same violating legislation. As far as I can tell, the ruling is also not just: ‘you have to stop participating in this specific program’. Any similar program would be unconstitutional, where the only reason the current one is allowed for three months is to process this ruling. No such three month period would exist for a new program.

        2. Sure, that seems possible given the current distribution of seats in German parliament. However, it seems extremely risky politically with the current pandemic recession. I already foresee a big AfD boost coming once people start to reflect on the current crisis. In general, it is safe to say that solidarity in Europe will not increase. This could become a focal point for anti-establishment anger or just general discontent with how things are going.

        3. At most it is 3D chess where one faction in the Government elite is pulling the emergency brake. Personally I would favor the German being a bit more selfish (although I have an obvious interest here, with German interests being very similar to Dutch interests).

        • zqed says:

          Regarding 1: It’s not the constitution, it’s this particular ruling. The current judgment (made in a case that dates from 2015) certainly puts constraints on future ones, but the court did not order anything that would prevent the ECB from announcing “meet the new program, same as the old program”, and the German government and central bank going along with it. NatLawReview has a good article on what the second senate decision actually entails.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems to me that it constraints the German central bank. So the ECB can announce whatever program they want, but if it doesn’t meet the requirements of the German constitutional court, the German central bank can’t participate.

          • Medrach says:

            I can’t speak for Aapje but maybe a way to rephrase 1 is: if this gets “evaded” then it makes the German Constitutional Court pointless. We can probably argue back and forth about whether that is good and necessary or not but:
            I do not think that the BVerfG will acquiesce if the EZB decides to say “meet the old program same as the new program.” There will be a new suit and if the BVerfG is pissed (which they would have every right to be) it won’t take them five years. They can and do grant injunctive relief to plaintiffs.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      The ECB was created as a supposedly politically neutral institution that would do minimal interventions to keep inflation near the target and such. In reality, the huge differences between EU states that threaten the Euro, means that upholding the Euro requires far-reaching interventions, with a large political component.

      This seems to be an intrisic problem with the instiutional and even philosophical foundation of the Euro: the idea that you could have a politically neutral monetary policy. There is no such thing, it’s mistake theory and technocracy at its peak hubris to believe that such thing is possible.

      The ECB is ostensibly modeled after the Federal Reserve, except that the Fed is a branch of the US Government, it’s ultimately under the legal oversight of the SCOTUS which can arbitrate any disputes that it might have with other branches of the government and politically it’s under the oversight of the President and the Senate, albeit in a roundabout way.
      On the other hand, who has legal and political oversight over the ECB?

      1. Implement these programs without the Germans. One problem is that Germany is the EU’s biggest purse. Another is that this creates a dilemma for the other countries. Why would they run these risks if Germany doesn’t? We might see more countries opt out.

      Yep, if Germany gets away with this then Netherlands is next, probably followed by Slovakia, Malta, Luxembourg, and so on. The Eurozone would be effectively split into the pigs and frogs zone and the beer and casinos zone, with different rules.
      To be fair, the idea of a “two-speed Euro” has been proposed before, but I doubt you could keep a viable monetary union this way.

      Yet if the German central bank obeys their constitutional court, what recourse does the EU have?

      Sanctions for violation of the threaties. Eventually, escalable up to suspension from the European Union.
      It sounds quite absurd to think that Germany could be suspended from the EU, but in theory the laws are on the books.

      Put the liabilities of these program on the EU, rather than the nation states, hoping that they can have their cake and eat it too (tell investors that the collateral for these programs is strong, yet tell the nation states that the liability is not theirs and they can just let the EU go bankrupt if shit hits the fan).

      But the EU can’t tax, so what is the collateral for this liability?

      End these programs that the German court deemed to violate the German constitution and/or (partially) implement them differently. For example, have German parliament explicitly agree to them, have the ECB write papers calculating the downsides of the policies and argue that they are reasonable, etc.

      Effectively amounts to giving any Eurozone country veto powers over the monetary policy. E.g. next time Italy wants moar monies and the ECB says no, the Italian Constitutional Court can just find the ECB policy unconstitutional and have it revised, only for the German Constitutional Court to find it unconstitutional again. Good luck sorting that out.

      IMHO, unless the German governments chickens out (verboten, Germans don’t do that) then the Euro is pretty much toast.

      • Aapje says:

        This seems to be an intrinsic problem with the institutional and even philosophical foundation of the Euro: the idea that you could have a politically neutral monetary policy.

        The plan was for the ‘southern’ countries to become like Germany, but for cultural reasons this is impossible. So the rules that were set in place that require the south to balance the budgets were violated time and again (which is why northern countries are so unwilling to show unlimited ‘solidarity’ with the south as they refused solidarity with the north so many times).

        It’s classic technocratic hubris: our choices/culture/way of life/etc are superior, so we will make rules requiring adherence and when people experience the fruits of those rules, they’ll see the error of their old ways.

        On the other hand, who has legal and political oversight over the ECB?

        The European Council and the European Parliament elect the head of the ECB, but the major decisions are made by a council of the heads of the national central banks, who each have one vote (where the southern countries outvote the northern ones).

        Then there is the European Court of Justice who can decide if the ECB violates the treaties/statutes.

        The Eurozone would be effectively split into the pigs and frogs zone and the beer and casinos zone, with different rules.

        This doesn’t seem very feasible unless you split the Euro into a Neuro (North Euro) and Seuro (South Euro). Yet splitting up the currency would be a huge pain (but is it less of a pain than a long slide down to oblivion?).

        Sanctions for violation of the treaties. Eventually, possibly scaling up to suspension from the European Union.

        I don’t see this as realistic. The European Council was not even capable of fining France for violating the budget rules. The entire point of the EU was to prevent Germany from dominating, by binding it to France. Yet having France dominate Germany like that? Surely Germany is never going to accept that.

        It sounds quite absurd to think that Germany could be suspended from the EU, but in theory the laws are on the books.

        In the EU, all countries are equal, but Germany and France are more equal than the others. So that’s effectively the same as dismantling the EU. The Europhiles will never ever, ever, ever do it.

        But the EU can’t tax, so what is the collateral for this liability?

        Like I said, there is no collateral. That’s why I don’t see it as realistic.

        Effectively amounts to giving any Eurozone country veto powers over the monetary policy. E.g. next time Italy wants moar monies and the ECB says no, the Italian Constitutional Court can just find the ECB policy unconstitutional and have it revised, only for the German Constitutional Court to find it unconstitutional again. Good luck sorting that out.

        This very plausibly leads to dissolution of the Euro, but then because the transfer union that is needed to keep it afloat won’t be set up. Again, I don’t see the culture changing in the north or the south, so neither a large transfer union nor policy convergence seems likely to happen.

        IMHO, unless the German governments chickens out (verboten, Germans don’t do that) then the Euro is pretty much toast.

        I do see that as a somewhat likely option. Again, because of that Nazi guilt. Ironically, such a decision would probably give an enormous boost to the far-right.

      • Medrach says:

        What everyone here seems to be missing is that the BVerfG is a seperate entity with more cachet, power and institutional independance than SCOTUS or frankly any other constitutional court.
        The national press hasn’t quite cottoned on, probably because it is very complicated to explain, but this is shaping up to be a semi-serious internal German crisis. The federal government is really in quite a bad place here. I don’t think they want this. The ESM and associated things have passed over the political horizon. Now it’s back. And while a lot of the current government can be considered quite friendly to Europe disregarding a direct court order from the BVerfG is pretty suicidal. Germans semi-ironically speak of constitutional patriotism and there really is quite a large amount of trust in the system. The BVerfG is widely seen as an apolitical and neutral arbiter of law. Turning this into a political shitflinging fight in domestic policy really cannot be in anyones interest.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          on the other hand, letting the court repeal the euro is… national economic suicide?

          Has the court never heard the dictum that you should not issue rulings that cannot be followed?

          • Aapje says:

            It’s in no way a repeal of the Euro. The court didn’t say that these policies are not allowed, but that it is not allowed to be implemented in this way.

            One of the main value of constitutions is to define the political process and force people to follow that process.

          • Garrett says:

            And the job of the Courts is then to find a fig leaf behind which the government can do things in express violation of said Constitution while the whole time claiming to uphold the Constitution.

          • Medrach says:

            Not really, at least not totally.

            I haven’t read the full verdict and I obviously was not in the chambers when this was deliberated. But I can guarantuee they did this neither blindy nor impulsively.
            The judges I know are deeply thoughtful people. Sure, by their function they are constitutional law scholars and thus to an extent maybe a little dogmatic. But they all know about and consider themselves an important part of and prerequisite to a functioning modern representative democracy. They didn’t do this because they can or because of base politcal considerations ala EURO BAD. This isn’t supposed to dunk on some party or interest.

            Of course, at a certain point constitutional law seems to become politics or at least skate perilously close to it.
            As I understand the ruling, they are basically saying that the way the EU is currently set up and the way it is (not) integrated into the German constitution doesn’t work. We did try that whole shebang with the european constitution but that didn’t work out so we are here. The political will for an ever closer union isn’t actually fully there.
            The criticism that is always leveled at the EU, and that the BVerfG is supporting here, is that they are always increasing their influence/power through the back door.
            There is something to be said about the fact that if the populace really wants economic suicide, maybe you give them economic suicide. Or at least make the people who say we are avoiding economic suicide politially liable. There is absolutely no mechanism by which a European Citizen could actively voice his disapproval of the policies of the ECB. There have been a lot of think pieces (and I think they are right) that this frustration and feeling of helplessness are what lead people to reject the idea of the European Union wholesale and vote for anti-EU parties even though they might not like the rest of their policies (whole other can of worms).
            The BVerfG has put their finger in a wound and this will undoubtedly cause some pain. But this wound has been there for years and was not healing at all. Their order to the Federal Government is absolutely followable. This should be a giant wake-up call to the states and the EU that something needs to change.

          • Aapje says:

            I started out being in favor of the EU, but I now see it as unsalvageable (or rather, I see the leadership of the EU as such).

            The kindest thing I can say about the EU is that its problems are largely the same, but worse, as what is happening in the nations themselves: one group (well-educated globalists) capturing the entire tetras* politica (except for Hungary, where the other group is doing the same).

            The result is that it is not merely policy that stops having democratic legitimacy, but the very rules of conduct are violated when they obstruct one side, while they are wielded as weapons against the other side.

            So I think that it goes beyond mere helplessness and into the territory of oppression.

            * The media makes for the fourth pillar.

    • a real dog says:

      The bank will obey its national court, obviously. EU is toothless and member states are routinely ignoring it with no consequence. For a state that is the main sponsor of the whole circus this is even easier.

      To be honest I’m surprised the euro currency has survived so long, it’s been a mess since its inception.

    • 10240 says:

      6. Finance the programs (directly or indirectly) through printing euros, rather than from debt. The Germans wouldn’t like that either (arguably for good reasons), but they couldn’t do much about it.

  28. DragonMilk says:

    Background: Wife’s family asks me as the finance guy to do a sort of feasibility study for this, I have no subject matter expertise but people I know who do advise this is no small time job, wondering what the best way to politely kill the idea would be by attaching some dollar signs and costs to it.

    Question: What are the economics of setting up your own small crude oil storage operation in Cushing OK?

    Details: Suppose you buy a quarter acre of farmland and plop a 10,000 barrel (420k gallon) bolt-on storage tank there. How long before the EPA and other regulatory bodies give you approval to open up shop, how much would upfront and running fees cost, and would one person showing up there every day count as security/sales/property management? How much would third-parties cost for such measures?

    Obviously oil prices are spiking back up again lately and contango is disappearing, but economics of the storage aside, what are the pitfalls for operating it yourself?

    Thanks all!

    • David W says:

      Here’s just some things off the top of my head – definitely not speaking professionally here.

      Looking at just the federal regulations, a quick Google points me to aboveground tank construction requirements and inspection guidelines. You’ve got to follow all of those, and they’re generally written vaguely enough that you need an engineering contractor to turn it into something concrete.

      You’ll have to work with both the EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. All the regulations I found were EPA regulations, typically state regulations are tighter in some way. I haven’t looked into Oklahoma at all, can’t comment.

      The inspection requirements typically say something about training, even for the daily walk-through. Either your relative will need to take some form of training, probably yearly and documented, or you’ll have to hire an engineering firm to perform your inspections. The dike likely counts as a confined space, which probably means multiple people required for inspection safety. The inspectors will need to have H2S and explosive atmosphere detectors – not expensive to buy but expensive to keep calibrated. Plus you’ll need a less frequent inspection that is definitely hired out.

      I would be surprised if you could build this and get approved to run in less than a year, for less than a million upfront. A refinery or chemicals project is typically in the vicinity of 4 years – this is simpler but still big enough you probably have to go through all the hoops.

      Some additional difficulties you may not have considered:
      First of all, keep in mind you’re not going to be able to ‘plop it on farmland’. You’re going to have to build a foundation to support the weight. It will have to include a dike capable of containing 10000 barrels, so that tank rupture does not lead to 10000 barrels of oil leaving your property. That dike will have to have a drain system for rainwater – which needs to be sent to a facility capable of treating wastewater with oil in it, not a standard sewer connection and definitely not ‘the ground’, because you have to assume your tank leaks or there’s been a spill. I would guess you can pay one of the big guys to accept your water for treatment rather than build your own, but that’s a negotiation not a standard product.

      On the foundation, you’re going to have to have the tank assembled, probably welded. 42 ft x 40 ft is not something you can drop off with a truck. A 40′ tank is heavy enough that you really ought to start with a site inspection, not all soils can support this kind of pressure, and then have your foundation designed by a civil engineer – maybe including pilings rather than just concrete on soil.

      You might need to build a road, at least something gravel, for filling/emptying your tank. A large semi can handle 200-300 barrels, so plan on 30-40 deliveries each time you want to buy or sell your contents. You’re probably not big enough for a pipeline company to give you the time of day. I’m not sure what a hazmat trucker charges, but it’s probably significant.

      You’ll need electricity, at least enough to run your safety equipment and probably enough to run a pump or two.

      You’ll want to budget some form of security. $Hundreds of thousands of a commodity is a real temptation when it’s sitting someplace out in the country available to anyone who stops by. Also, this is a flammable/toxic hazard, you don’t want to be liable for your neighbor getting gassed when he tracks down his cow to your property. Crude seems like it ought to be pretty easy to launder in oil producing country. Mostly people with the knowledge how to turn crude into cash also have a lot to lose if they’re caught, but you still want some form of deterrence – probably a chain link fence with a lock and a camera would suffice.

      I’m sure I’m overlooking a bunch here yet, but my lunch break is over

      • John Schilling says:

        I would be surprised if you could build this and get approved to run in less than a year, for less than a million upfront.

        Used railroad tank cars pre-certified to carry oil seem to sell for $20K each; that’s probably how I’d go if I needed an oil storage facility up and running fast. Well, in Oklahoma that is; anywhere coastal I’d be pricing used tankers.

        But that’s $20K for just over 700 barrels capacity, maybe $25/barrel if you shop around for the cheapest, largest tankers you can find (you won’t be moving them much). It would take a fairly large price swing for that to be profitable as a pure investment move. If you think you know when the price swing is going to occur, you could maybe lease the tankers, or just plan to sell them off when you’re done with them, but the usual caution applies.

        • David W says:

          If DragonMilk’s in laws were to go that route, for 10K barrels he’d need 15 cars – $300K, assuming your prices are correct at a time when the oil storage business looks profitable.

          Plus about 200-300K for a rail spur. Now you’re not talking generic farmland, you’re talking somewhere along a rail line, with some site prep work still needed: another boost to cost. I suspect in the end it’s probably cheaper than a tank, and probably faster to set up, but not by as much as looking only at the rail cars would imply. Maybe 700K instead of 1000K. And keep in mind you’re proposing used cars vs. a new tank; if we’re just aiming to make one trade it doesn’t matter, but if they want to enter this business long term it might.

          I have no idea what the DOT regs are for inspection/maintenance, it might be easier since rail cars are standardized, or it might be harder because it’s fifteen inspections instead of one. Certainly buying/selling the oil will be easier, as long as the rail company doesn’t negotiate your profit away. I’m sure pipeline operators and refineries will accept rail deliveries.

          And on top, they’re still going to have to build some form of spill protection structure or else accept the risk that the EPA decides to make you into an example. I’m not sure what that looks like given the constraint that you had to build the rail spur on the flat, same elevation and close to a rail line which you don’t own, and you presumably want to be able to move the cars later. I’m having trouble picturing the oil-tight door that closes over the rails, although it’s not a new problem so someone may have invented it. Certainly there’s still going to be some paving and a dike, although it can be lower with that 10% volume requirement.

        • Another Throw says:

          Are Panamax ships still trading at scrap value? After the expansion of the canal was completed (4 years ago?) you could get brand new old-format ships because of the very strong economies of scale in shipping. If any of those haven’t been chopped up yet you might be able to get one re-certified and floating.

          Doesn’t help in Oklahoma, though, unless you’re renting railcars to haul it to a port. And I suspect whoever currently owns the ships has already thought about this.

      • bean says:

        You’ll have to work with both the EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. All the regulations I found were EPA regulations, typically state regulations are tighter in some way. I haven’t looked into Oklahoma at all, can’t comment.

        Oklahoma tends to be very friendly towards the oil industry, given how much of our economy it makes up. But given our lovely state government, who knows.

      • DragonMilk says:

        After looking into it a bit, it looked like there were plenty of companies willing to build a 10k barrel bolt-on facility that meets all applicable regs in less than a month or so…but not sure what the regulatory bit is – like is it ask for forgiveness rather than permission (build everything first, inspect later?), or will you get massively fined for building before approval like some states?

        Great points on security/property management. Anyone experts on site security/minimal viable project?

        Again, I need to be respectful and show why it’s a very risky undertakinig and sticking to real estate may be the preferable bet with ~1MM..

        Anyway, thanks for the very long and helpful lunch break reply, it’s a great supplement!

        • CatCube says:

          I can’t answer your questions about cost, but some food for thought: if there’s not somebody for whom storing oil in Cushing is their day job walking around with a checkbook looking for a site to quickly build something like this, that should give your relatives pause.

          They may want to consider leasing their property for this. If somebody who has experience storing oil and has contacts with people who build tanks for a living isn’t willing to lease empty land, that will tell you that no matter what your analysis looking from the outside, this is a place where there’s not a free $20 bill on the ground. Either getting the tank built will be hard, or maybe the costs of trucking the oil there will eat any benefits, or any of a million other things that only people who do this for a living will know.

  29. Belisaurus Rex says:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20200405061401/https://medium.com/@agaiziunas/covid-19-had-us-all-fooled-but-now-we-might-have-finally-found-its-secret-91182386efcb

    Above is a webarchived post from a crackpot from a month ago which was removed from Medium (despite Medium alleging not to remove posts for factual inaccuracies), and this is NatGeo today:

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/api.nationalgeographic.com/distribution/public/amp/science/2020/05/they-do-not-struggle-to-breathe-but-coronavirus-starves-them-of-oxygen-cvd

    Given all the new information, does it look more or less likely that the crackpot was right? Someone had posted his article here shortly after it came out, just looking to see if anyone who knew better than me would still discredit his post.

    • broblawsky says:

      Substantially less likely, given that the Medium post uses the supposed efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as evidence for its position and that we can now be fairly confident that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective.

    • Lambert says:

      No, that medium article is still crazy.
      NatGeo is suggesting that COVID19 damages lung tissue in an unusual way.

      Nothing dumb about binding to haem groups.

    • S_J says:

      The other replies already hit what I was going to say: the touting of hydroxychloroquine in the Medium article is a difference from the article published by NatGeo.

      With that in mind, I’ve seen comments about silent hypoxia elsewhere. (Not in the Medium article, and before the publication of the National Geographic article.)

      It’s one indicator of COVID-19 that might be much easier to test for than the actual virus, or the antibodies.

    • matkoniecz says:

      despite Medium alleging not to remove posts for factual inaccuracies

      How you know that it was removed by Medium?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s definitely removed. Do you think someone besides Medium removed it?

        This account is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules.

    • zzzzort says:

      Amongst other things, a virus that infects mature red blood cells would be incredibly weird, as in no known virus does it. RBCs in humans don’t have nuclei (or any other internal structure), or the ability to synthesize DNA/RNA or proteins (though apparently we’re less sure about the proteins). Viruses infect cells in order to hijack cell’s ability to copy genetic material and synthesize proteins. Any interaction between coronavirus and red blood cells would have to be either accidental, or part of some multi-stage life cycle that eventually leads to the infection of a real cell.

  30. bullseye says:

    I read this blog so much I had a dream about Deiseach.

    I don’t know what she looks like in real life, so she looked like her avatar. We were playing foosball (which she might know as table football). She refused to use all of her men because she was familiar with an Irish version with fewer men, which she insisted was obviously superior. She won handily.

    • Deiseach says:

      I apologise deeply and sincerly for giving you nightmares! 🙂

      That must have been my Evil Twin, since although I am familiar with table football, I cannot play it well because of lack of manual dexterity or any aptitude for games.

      This is hilarious and a tiny bit concerning!

  31. ana53294 says:

    How common is it to have doors that are difficult to break in the US?

    One of the things I notice in movies, is how easy it seems to break into a door in the US, even into the houses of the mob or whatever. Is it a movie thing? Because if you’re going to be a criminal living in a country where it’s common to get swatted with a no-knock warrant, why not make it harder for law enforcement to do it without you hearing it?

    In Russia, because of racketeering and other fun things, many houses have a security door. They are unbreachable, without destroying the door frame, also. It’s a solid steel door, that only opens outside (so you can’t push it inside). I’d say in most cases, it would be easier to destroy the wall or door frame than the solid steel door many Russian homes have.

    Law enforcement can cut through steel; but you’d probably hear it, and they wouldn’t be able to do it as quickly, I think.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve seen security doors like the ones you describe on commercial buildings and on the outside of apartment buildings that did not have onsite security. I don’t think I have ever seen such a thing on a privately owned house or apartment.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I’ve seen one once in the UK, while working as a maintenance technician for communal TV and door entry systems in blocks of flats (so one out of many thousands that I visited over a number of years, mostly in London, but also across Southern England and the Midlands). The owner of the flat, I was told by my colleague who had worked that area for more than twenty years, was a career criminal, with convictions for bank robbery among other things. Police raids were a relatively common reason for our callouts in that area: perhaps once a week we’d be called to a flat where a new tennant had moved in to discover that the intercom handset had been smashed when the police knocked down the door to arrest their predecessor.

    • Kaitian says:

      I don’t know much about the US, but from what I do know, a lot of US houses are built from wood and gypsum boards, so installing a heavy door would be really pointless. Law enforcement can probably open your door with specialised tools either way, and other people can just go through a window.

      I think it also depends a lot on the culture. In China, it’s common to have heavy doors with multiple locks and bars, and a cage-like structure over ground floor windows. In central Europe, front doors are generally not very sturdy and window cages almost unheard of (I only know one family that has them, and they’re Chinese immigrants). If movies are to be believed, many US homes only have very flimsy doors and windows.

      I guess it’s either a “social trust” issue or US citizens who feel unsafe prefer to get a firearm and alarm system over heavy doors.

      • johan_larson says:

        Bars on windows in the US are a sign you’re in a bad neighborhood, a place with a real crime problem. Most US single-family homes are trivial to break into if you’re willing to break a pane of glass.

        I think in the US people who are worried about being robbed are more likely to have alarms and contracts with security companies. I remember walking through a neighborhood in the LA suburbs, and an entire street of houses were all sporting “armed response” signs on their lawns.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Only the interior wall surfaces are gypsum boards. The exterior wall surfaces are commonly 1/2 inch plywood or OSB (oriented strand board, a type of engineered wood that’s a close substitute for plywood for most uses), covered first with water-resistant sheeting and then with a facade layer. The facade material varies wildly: stucco, solid wood panels, bricks, aluminum siding, and vinyl siding are all in widespread usage.

        The plywood alone, combined with the wooden frame of the house, is very sturdy. You’d need an axe to break through it without heavy machinery, and it wouldn’t be a fast process. Vinyl siding wouldn’t add much to the process, but bricks or stucco would need to be demolished with a sledgehammer, and aluminum siding or wood panels would need to be pried off one-by-one. Pretty much nobody breaks through walls unless the goal is to demolish the building, since the wall is much sturdier than doors or windows.

        Windows are much sturdier than depicted in TV shows and movies. TV and movies use sugar glass (basically a thin, clear sheet of rock candy) for glass that’s meant to be broken, specifically because it breaks easily into shards that look like glass but aren’t dangerous. Actual window glass is a lot tougher, generally designed to be fairly resistant to accidental breakage. You wouldn’t want to try to punch or kick through it, since you’re likely to cut yourself rather badly in the process. Still, it’s fairly easy to break a window on purpose: the best way is probably to throw a brick through it or hit it with a crowbar, then use a hammer or crowbar to enlarge the hole. The main deterrent to breaking windows to get into a house is that it’s noisy and tends to attract unwanted attention.

    • Lambert says:

      > it would be easier to destroy the wall or door frame

      I’d not be surprised if the average American wall/doorframe were weaker than a Russian one.

      Outward facing doors expose the hinges, so you’ll have to install jamb pins.
      Locks can be bumped or electrically picked so you need bolts that can only be accessed from the inside.
      You need to prevent access from either the top or bottom of the door.
      And all of the above needs to be able to survive being shot by multiple breaching rounds.

      Once you’ve done all of this, the police will come in through your window.

      I think it’s a matter of threat model. A racketeer will decide your house isn’t worth the effort and move on to the next one. The police have a signed warrant that specifies your house and they’ll be damned if they can’t get in. They’re an advanced persistent threat.

      • albatross11 says:

        They could also knock on the f–king door and tell the residents “we have a warrant, let us in now or you’ll be in more trouble.” No-knock warrants make sense for a really tiny fraction of cases where there’s, say, a hostage situation or something. They apparently get used in small-time drug prosecutions all the time, which is nuts.

        • Lambert says:

          They could, but we’re talking about America here.

          Also the question kind of presupposed that it’s about the sort of person who wouldn’t answer anyway.

        • CatCube says:

          “we have a warrant, let us in now or you’ll be in more trouble.”

          In the drug cases they use no-knock warrants, nobody will open due to the police knocking because this statement is completely opposite of true. While they’re knocking on your door and making pathetic little threats that the law won’t back up, you should be flushing all the drugs they’re there to find. Once you’ve gotten rid of all the evidence, you’re going to be in way less trouble than you would have if you’d let them in on the first tap.

          This isn’t a sufficient justification for no-knock warrants, because–assuming arguendo that drug dealing should be illegal–if somebody is so small-time that knocking and waiting for response for a minute before kicking in the door is enough time for them to get rid of all (or most) of the evidence, they’re probably too small-time to be an actual dealer. But at least understand that the time due to knocking absolutely gives the people in the house a lot of opportunity to make things way better for themselves.

          • ana53294 says:

            Yes, but that at least serves to equalize the power of the state and the individual. If the state has the ability of going into your house without your permission, why is getting a couple of minutes to microwave your computer too much to ask?

            It just seems like the state has way too much power to arbitrary go against somebody. Anything that lets you defend yourself against that is good.

            time for them to get rid of all (or most) of the evidence, they’re probably too small-time to be an actual dealer.

            I’m pretty sure you can flush hundreds of grams of heroin in one go. Maybe even up to a kilo?

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I’m pricing in the terrifying threat that a low-level drug dealer might manage to flush his drug supply before opening up, thereby causing us to, I dunno, I guess lose the war on drugs and have every high school in America have someone selling drugs in it? (Oh, wait….)

            There are some circumstances where no-knock warrants and SWAT teams tossing flash-bangs and coming in loaded for bear makes sense, but situations where the main risk is that the drug dealer will manage to flush all his drugs in the couple minutes before he opens the door aren’t any of them.

          • Lambert says:

            You’d’ve thought the dealers would live in a house with multiple toilets and store all the drugs above one of the bowls, with some kind of trapdoor mechanism in case the rozzers came.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Lambert: Toilets are silly cheap and don’t take too much plumber labor to install. Pipes are relatively expensive but seems like it’d be relatively cheap to have 6 normal-looking residential bathrooms/half baths in a two-storey house by making them all horizontally/vertically adjacent.

    • SamChevre says:

      Generally, secure doors and windows on a residential property in the US are a sign of a high-crime area–so not rare overall, but rare enough to be very attention-getting in a “normal” neighborhood.

      I have never lived in a house where I couldn’t have gotten in without any specialized tools in under 5 minutes.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d say in most cases, it would be easier to destroy the wall or door frame than the solid steel door many Russian homes have.

      Easier still to, you know, break any of the glass windows most American homes have. There are circumstances where the sorts of security measures you describe are appropriate, but you need a combination of steel doors, barred windows, brick or concrete walls, and probably a shotgun. Otherwise, in a high-trust society the commotion involved in breaking down a door will have the neighbors calling the police before criminals can finish their work, and in a low-trust society criminals will be able to go straight through the walls with a Sawzall or an axe while the neighbors keep their heads down.

    • sami says:

      It’s common enough in older urban areas. I have such a door on my house, and wrought iron bars on the ground floor windows too. They were there when we bought the house, and all the older houses have them, even though my neighborhood is not particularly high crime. None of the new houses popping up everywhere have them, so they’re not considered necessary anymore.

    • Beans says:

      As an American who has spent time in Russia, I remember being shocked by the massive chunky metal doors (as well as the loud beeping button you have to press to open them). Even the pretty tough-looking doors you sometime see on apartment buildings in the US are much smaller, and often there’s some glass around them that I assume someone could break with a big enough rock and some dedication. The gigantic soviet block style buildings every Russian I know lives in seem to lack windows you can easily get to from the ground, too, though at the cost of being really depressing to look at.

    • Jake R says:

      Others have already pointed out that having high-security doors or windows is usually a sign of a high crime area. I just wanted to add that while it wouldn’t surprise me if doors were easier to break down in America than other parts of the world, it is not as easy as movies would lead you to believe. The average door isn’t just going to cave to one good kick or a rammed shoulder like in the movies.

    • 205guy says:

      In the US outside of dense city enters, residential front doors are relatively weak and unsophisticated. Doors are almost always wood, people think that a dead bolt is adequately strong, and as noted, windows are generally un-reinforced. Generally people close and lock their windows and doors when they leave for the day, and consider it adequate. As mentioned, bad neighborhoods will have metal screen doors (outer door, almost never a metal main door) and window bars, and medium-and-good neighborhoods with break-in problems will have weak doors and windows but add security systems, cameras, and signs for security-response companies (and some number of them have the corresponding service).

      In my experience, none of these measures are to counter any law enforcement actions, and almost no one thinks of them that way. Maybe it’s because I don’t associate with criminals, but I think it’s just that in general, most people have more problems with criminals breaking in than with law enforcement breaking in. I suppose criminals think about these thing (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually didn’t given the lack of planning by most petty criminals), but I can’t speculate how or what.

      Compared with Europe, the average US home is not as secure but about as safe. What I saw in France was that almost all front doors were reinforced (not necessarily metal) with fancy locks that were presumably hard to pick. This was also the case inside of apartment buildings that had controlled entry (locked door with code or intercom access), though the common entry door usually isn’t that secure (glass door, code never changed, etc). In any free-standing house, any outside window that was reachable from the ground would have a solid locking shutter that is closed whenever the residents aren’t home. Some of these windows also had metal rolling shutters, for example on a patio window and door.

      In both systems, residents have about the same amount of expected safety and security. When I think about the reasons that the French need stronger doors, locks, and windows, I can come up with a few theories, but I’m not sure which is right or more influential. First, I think Europeans just have more valuables to protect. Perhaps with the wars and cost of banking, there is tendency to keep cash equivalents under the mattress, so to speak. Also, there are more antiques, jewelry, and baubles from great-grandma that can be worth serious money and are kept in homes. In the US, these are kept in safety deposit boxes, or most people don’t have that much of real value (other than electronics, and those you can easily replace). People in the US with real valuables will have an in-house safe, stronger doors and windows (but not metal), and probably a security system.

      Second, I think there is more property crime in Europe. There are more organized gangs who rob banks and break into homes looking for those valuables. It’s not petty crimes of opportunity, but more organized. But it’s not “organized crime” like in the US which means the mob which shake down businesses and other rackets—as far as I know, they don’t target residences like it sounds they do in Russia. Gangs in the US are associated with inner city drug dealing, and their territories are the “bad neighborhoods” with the metal bars on windows. In the US suburbs, home break-ins are often drug addicts looking for cheap stuff to resell, which is why the suburban towns don’t like to see the homeless around (because they are often thought to be drug addicts). France also has roaming groups of Gypsies (or Rom, not sure what the appropriate demonym would be) with 100+ members camping out in the local sports fields of medium and large towns (they all have modern RV trailers now). I don’t know whether or not they are actually involved in burglary, but I’m sure they are suspected of it by stereotype.

      I honestly don’t know how much guns have to do with it. It makes sense that when any house (but not every house) may be defended by the homeowner with a gun, there will be less burglary and thus less need to spend on reinforcing doors. But then some places where guns are not prevalent are also low crime and still don’t need heavy doors. In some places, people even leave houses open and unlocked when they are away, so it’s not a safety or gun issue.

      There may be other factors I’m not aware of, for example insurance coverage. Depending on the prevalence, cost, or exclusions of coverage, people may need to install the doors and shutters either to be insured—or perhaps because they can’t get or afford insurance. Or maybe hey do a cost analysis and just buy the fancy doors and windows. Also, once it becomes a norm, you don’t want to be the only house in the area without a metal door.

      PS: random topics like this are one reason I like these comments, for the small nuggets of cultural or experiential insight, moreso when I can even contribute.

      • ana53294 says:

        The kind of property crime that occurred in Russia in the 90s (and apparently still occurs, but on a much smaller scale), was not the break in type.

        So called “black realtors” (none of whom were of African race), together with organized crime, would get rid of an owner, and somehow privatize people’s homes for themselves. This was especially common with old pensioners who weren’t living or in contact with their families/heirs. So this kind of protection was put not only to protect property, but lives also. Not sure how well they worked, but that was what those people could do.

    • S_J says:

      Movies/TV may be a little hazy about the details… Generally, if the door and frame are made of wood, then the weak point is where the door-latch inserts into the door-frame.

      In the houses I’m familiar with, doorways have hinge-mounts on one side, and a catch-plate on the other side. The weak point is that the catch-plate is usually fastened to what the builder calls ‘trim wood’: parts of the door-frame that can be removed without altering the framing material that supports the wall. I know that this is true in the U.S., and I imagine that it is true for wooden door-frames in many parts of the world.

      Apparently, both American and British police use battering rams. It’s a cylinder with a special mechanism that amplifies force when an officer swings the cylinder against the door.

      On a wood door, a typical use is to strike the weak point near the latch and catch-plate. I gather that the catch-plate is easy to tear out of the wood using such a tool.

  32. johan_larson says:

    What’s the chance that five years from now, the state of relations between the US and China will be routinely and non-metaphorically described as a cold war?

    • Tarpitz says:

      What does non-metaphorically mean here? Isn’t the phrase inherently a metaphor?

      I think it is extremely likely that “cold war” will be a reasonable way to characterize US-China relations in the coming decades (85%) and quite likely that they will be characterized that way in five years even if reality is otherwise (and not very likely that the opposite error in characterization will be made). So 90%?

      • johan_larson says:

        What I’m getting at with the “non-metaphorical” term is that the situation should be something more than mere rivalry. There should be real hostility, and at least the possibility of actual fighting.

    • NanjingExpress says:

      I’ll take around 15%, as there’s just too much entanglement for both sides to reach the level of hostility that a real Cold War would entail.

      • Lambert says:

        Wasn’t everyone in 1912 Europe saying that?

        But I see that leading to a hot war more than a cold one. One great power fighting the other’s proxies, at minimum.

        • NanjingExpress says:

          And that’s something that seems like a bit of a gray area to me, especially in regards to Iran- loads of economic ties to China, but I can’t really see the US bombing them as a proxy fight.

          • Filareta says:

            Actually Chinese relationship with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival in islamic world, is stronger than with Iran.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Iran is a Russian client not a Chinese one, but note that in the previous Cold War the two most notable proxy wars took place in/against the Chinese clients in Korea and Vietnam. If we think of China and Russia as having merely switched roles as regards who is the senior partner and who the junior, the analogy holds.

            It also seems entirely plausible to me that we will see proxy wars over/in one or more resource-rich African countries in the coming decades. The DRC and CAR seem like particularly prime candidates.

          • John Schilling says:

            Vietnam wasn’t a Chinese client. Their support all came from Russia, and they wound up fighting a war with China not long after they were finished with the United States.

          • the Chinese clients in Korea and Vietnam.

            Korea yes. I don’t think Vietnam was ever a Chinese client — and after the U.S. left, Vietnam fought a small war with China.

          • Dynme says:

            Even Korea didn’t have much Chinese involvement at first. As far as I’m aware, China didn’t become majorly involved until the US rolled up on their border and MacArthur started spouting off about nukes.

        • cassander says:

          Norman Angell didn’t have nukes.

      • John Schilling says:

        And in 1936 it was ludicrous to think of Japan fighting any sort of war with the United States because they were utterly dependent on the US for steel and oil. A: Things change and B: economic ties are an overrated prophylactic against even hot wars, never mind cold ones.

        • NanjingExpress says:

          Japan is certainly an interesting counterexample. A lot of the belligerence was in search of more resources, and it doesn’t seem like that would hold for exports in the post-colonial era.