Open Thread 154

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

1. New sidebar ad for Substack, a platform for bloggers and blog readers (some of you may be in that category!) Bloggers have options to monetize their work, readers have options to find the best blog posts on a variety of topics. I would probably be a more effective shill for them if I switched to their platform, but I am Old and Set In My Ways.

2. And another new ad for, a “a free and open source developer tool that allows users to write apps for Android, iOS, and more” using a Visual Basic-like programming language. My contact there says that “it’s been around for many years and very popular in some parts of the world but not very well known in the US so I think getting some eyeballs on this project would be helpful for it.”

3. I have heard your pleas for mercy and commuted EchoChaos and HeelBearCub’s bans to four months only.

4. Slight update on the Book Review Contest: many people expressed a wish to read all the entries, not just the finalists. I’ll probably make all the .txt files available in an archive or something for download. So by sending me your review, you are by default giving me permission to make it public however I want, whether it’s a finalist or not, unless you specifically ask me not to do that.

5. By this point you probably won’t be surprised to hear that there’s another virtual SSC meetup on May 24th. Guest speaker this time is economist Bryan Caplan, author of The Case Against Education, Open Borders, and many excellent blog posts.

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921 Responses to Open Thread 154

  1. RobJ says:

    This seem like a place where people have come up with creative solutions to parenting issues… has anyone had any luck improving the eating habits of very picky kids. I have a 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son who are both quite picky, but in different ways. My son essentially doesn’t eat any fruits or vegetables. My daughter will eat healthy food, but is extremely reluctant to try anything new, will refuse anything slightly different than usual, and almost completely avoids any combinations of food. As in, she’ll eat noodles and meatballs, but not touching each other. She also occasionally just drops something off her list of acceptable foods, so it seems like our options just keep getting smaller.

    We’ve tried all the typical advice you get from pediatricians and nutritionists (like family style dinner, have at least one thing they like at each meal) and it doesn’t seem to do any good at all except to make dinner time somewhat less of a battle. The haven’t changed eating habits one bit. I started writing a lot more about all the things we’ve tried, but it’s probably not worth posting. My feeling was maybe we should just give up… it’s probably genetic and not worth fighting. My wife doesn’t find this acceptable. Anyone have any clever ideas?

    • Lord Nelson says:

      At the risk of sounding rude, are you and your wife good cooks? Also, is it possible that one or both of your kids could have GI issues or sensory sensitivity?

      I was an extremely picky eater as a kid. I had undiagnosed autism, so foods that were the wrong texture or overly spicy were a no go. I also had problems swallowing for a year or so, which cut my “acceptable” foods down even further. And on top of that, I had a GI disorder. I started rejecting food that made me sick; at the time I assumed that the food in question made everyone sick, and that I was just being overly picky, but nope, turns out that eating pizza doesn’t cause most people to feel like they’re going to vomit.

      I grew out of some of the pickiness with age. Cooking foods in different ways helped. (Boiled veggies are always nasty, but I like them steamed or stir fried. I dislike the texture of most fruit, but dried and freeze dried fruit have a great texture.) Trying foods from different cultures also helped, probably because they use different spices than the standard American faire.

      For the record, my parents had a rule of “you have to try it, but don’t have to finish it if you don’t like it”, which helped keep me from having bad dinner experiences even when I hated one of the foods they cooked.

      • AG says:

        Co-signing on the importance of texture. My cooking parent wasn’t great, and that put me off of eggplant and tomatoes for decades. I’ve only now started to lose my gag reflex when presented with dishes using those ingredients, and only if cooked in ways that give them entirely different textures from what put me off back in the day.

        My guess is that kids have a higher aversion to sliminess, and that lots of cooking for adults emphasizes a shiny sauce, combined with it easy for non-chefs to make stuff go mushy, creates a common conflict in what gets served on the table.

        Not really viable now, but try taking the kids to a buffet of mostly unfamiliar foods and see what the kids gravitate towards, in terms of texture and cooking mechanism, rather than flavor.

        Or, try the direct approach. Ask the kids what they don’t like eating without naming specific ingredients, focusing on what kind of flavors and textures they like/dislike.

        • RobJ says:

          To answer Lord Nelson’s questions, we are pretty decent cooks. It’s not just throwing broccoli in boiling water and plopping it on their plate like I grew up with. We buy fresh stuff, cook it in ways that enhance the flavors, etc. But we aren’t doing anything fancy most nights and there are plenty of quick things. I’m not sure it matters, anyway. Presented with some really nice roasted vegetables and warmed up frozen peas, my daughter will take the frozen peas every time.

          I definitely think texture is a major thing for my daughter. She will eat raw onion before cooked onion, which seems crazy if you are going by flavor. At the same time, though, I haven’t been able to find any clear rules to follow. Crunchy is generally better than mushy (chicken nuggets must be from the oven, not the microwave, which I definitely get), but trying to use that as a guide has been far from a guarantee.

          And yeah, we never make our kids eat everything. The rule we have stuck by for a while (after a lot of half enforced rules that we couldn’t stick by) is that they need to choose at least 3 items to put on their plate, including 1 fruit or vegetable. They don’t have to eat everything, but if they want seconds they need to have at least a bite of everything. For my daughter this rule works fine. For my son, since he doesn’t eat any fruits or vegetables, it is difficult. There has been a fruit or vegetable on his dinner plate essentially every night for years and he’s never eaten more than two bites of any of it. His “favorite fruit” is pear, which means he is usually willing to take a tiny bite of it in order to get seconds.

          • AG says:

            “Cook it in ways that enhance the flavors” can mean different things to adults and children, though. I no longer like some of the things I preferred growing up, since my palate has changed.

            For your son, have you tried serving veggies that don’t seem like veggies? Like broccoli tots, dried veggie chips, or pureeing them into the sauce or riced into either meat or carbs (hamburger steak, meatloaf, dumplings/buns, mashed potatoes, zucchini bread, etc.). Tempura every night obviously isn’t viable, but it might give you a direction to chase. Birds Eye brand veggie pasta isn’t bad, at all.

            Finally, there is a small chance that getting the kids involved in the cooking process might help. What are their instincts in the kitchen? Let them season a few portions, tasting all along the way, instead of just the final step. It could help them clarify their tastes to themselves, which in turn helps them communicate it to you. They might be able to get through eating something slathered in a sauce that’s too much for adults.

    • 10240 says:

      I’ve seen speculation that children may have an aversion to eating things they haven’t seen their parents eat, as they are uncertain that they are safe. So have your children see you eat the sorts of things you give them to eat, if they haven’t already.

      Or just give them things they like to eat, if it’s possible to do so in a healthy way and without undue effort.

      You could ask in the next OT; this one is pretty dead by now.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I’m not a parent but eventually they’ll get hungry enough that they have to eat anyway right? I know it used to be common that if a kid refused to eat a dinner they’d be served the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

      • RobJ says:

        We have proven unable (really, unwilling I guess) to wait them out longer than they can wait out us.

    • You have my sympathy. We thought by bringing up our kids to eat a fair variety of non-standard foods we could solve that problem. We ended up with children — now adults — who were perfectly happy with with a number of dishes from a 10th century Muslim cookbook and others from a fourteenth century English one but very picky about what other things, modern or medieval, they liked. One of them strongly objects to my eating peanut butter at the same table she is eating at, because she doesn’t like the smell — and no, she isn’t allergic. The other has a similar, if not quite as strong, objection to chili. I will refrain from other examples.

      I can’t offer a good way of changing them, but you might try the policy we used when they were young for dealing with the problem. The rule was that they didn’t have to eat what the rest of us were having provided they could provide themselves with something else that was no extra work for us and, in our judgement, nutritionally adequate.

      Our son ate a good deal of fruit yogurt.

      • RobJ says:

        Thanks, yes, that sounds familiar. We’ve found that any kind of ethnic food from across the world is fine with them, as long as it fits whatever narrow range of presentation, texture & ingredient preferences they have. We may end up going with the “then make yourselves something” approach at some point. My wife finds it incredibly frustrating and emotionally draining to make dinners that half our family doesn’t eat, though, so that will probably be a last resort.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          For whatever comfort it may be, despite my father’s comments above, we in fact grew out of most of our pickiness – in my case in my teens, I’m not as sure about my brother. The peanut butter thing is something my older half-brother, raised separately, also shares, and I’ve met a few other people who do; having a very strong aversion to one particular taste does not seem that unusual.

          (The bit where I also won’t eat raw onions or melted cheese is perhaps a bit less common. I did say most.)

          Internally, as a teenager, it mostly felt as if dishes that had tasted unpleasant no longer did so, or as if dishes tasted as if I shouldn’t like them, but I did; I also deliberately developed my tolerance for hot spice, but that was separate. As best I could tell, my tastes generally just broadened – nothing causing it except my age.

          I sympathize about making dinner that only half the family will eat being discouraging; my mother has that problem too. I don’t know if it would work for your family, but what we usually did was to mostly make dinner everyone would eat, occasionally make something that one or both kids didn’t like – which is when we went for the yogurt. That way things we didn’t like weren’t barred to our parents (and while we weren’t pressured to retry things we knew we disliked, we were certainly welcome to do so, and our parents would approve if we did). Also, there were some dishes I could happily eat disassembled that I couldn’t eat assembled – if Mom made macaroni and peas and cheese, she’d take out some macaroni before she put in the cheese, and I would eat peas and plain macaroni and unmelted cheese. I don’t know if that kind of thing would be remotely practical for anything you do, or if it would be not at all/way too much work, but you mentioned your daughter liking things unmixed, so I thought it might be worth mentioning.

          (“Don’t like things touching” is something I had strongly as a kid which largely faded with age, and I’ve seen it do so for other people, so hopefully that will also get better over time?)

          Do your kids get bored with food? If you serve them the same thing every week, will they go crazy? (Will you?) If not, finding seven dishes they eat (or more if you have more, but…) and putting a lot of dishes aside for a while (or at least, doing them for yourselves and being OK with the kids not eating them) is one of the techniques my mother used, and probably the most successful.

          That said, your problem seems a lot more severe than ours – neither of us ever refused all fruit and vegetables, (neither of us ever refused almost any fruit, honestly, though I got down to about four vegetables I would reliably eat at the worst point – five if you count artichokes). It sounds as if you’ve tried a whole lot of different things, too; I assume you’ve tried the same vegetables raw versus cooked as well as cooked different ways, I know that made a difference for us, but… I think most of what I can offer you is sadly just sympathy.

          (And suspicion that you are correct: at least, in my case I don’t think it was worth fighting, and leaving it alone resulted in the problem pretty much going away on its own, albeit later than my parents would have preferred.)

    • ana53294 says:

      Do they eat blended food?

      Because then you can have blended soups with veggies and meat, or milkshakes.

      Sugar is bad, but you could start giving them very sugary milkshakes, and gradually reduce the amount of sugar until it’s mostly the natural flavours.

      I like orange juice a lot more than oranges, and, while oranges have less fiber, I haven’t seen a convincing argument why freshly squeezed orange juice is worse than oranges. Other than you can consume more of it, but isn’t that the point here?

    • johan_larson says:

      I guess my question is why you are presenting this as a matter of choice to your children. In some families, and some cultures, the simple expectation is that you eat what’s served, and that’s that.

      In her book, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, Lenora Chu presents an anecdote about how things are just plain done differently elsewhere. She put her American-born kid in a prestigious Chinese private school. Her son refused to eat eggs at home, but she later found out that he did eat them at school, after the staff essentially force-fed them to him when he refused.

      During his first week at Soong Qing Ling, Rainey began complaining to his mom about eating eggs. This puzzled Lenora because as far as she knew, Rainey refused to eat eggs and never did so at home. But somehow he was eating them at school.

      After much coaxing (three-year-olds aren’t especially articulate), Lenora discovered that Rainey was being force-fed eggs. By his telling, every day at school, Rainey’s teacher would pass hardboiled eggs to all students and order them to eat. When Rainey refused (as he always did), the teacher would grab the egg and shove it in his mouth. When Rainey spit the egg out (as he always did), the teacher would do the same thing. This cycle would repeat 3-5 times with louder yelling from the teacher each time until Rainey surrendered and ate the egg.

      I don’t think I’d be willing to go quite as far as that Chinese school did; people should have meaningful choices, and even children should have some say over their lives. But setting the standard that you eat what’s served if you’re not doing the cooking or picking up the check seems like a useful thing. Perhaps the appropriate compromise would be to let them opt out of any one thing on the table, but they must eat at least a spoonful of everything else. But any standard will have to be stuck to and enforced, and perhaps not merely in gentle ways.

    • Viliam says:

      Coming late to the debate, but here is my experience with my kids:

      Kids prefer unmixed things, while adults prefer rich compositions of food. (However, blended things are sometimes okay for kids, probably because they seem homogenous.) Kids seem to prefer eating the same stuff over and over again, and don’t like trying new food, while adults often like novelty. Kids can detect tiny amount of spices and refuse the food, while adults would think of it as an improvement to the taste or not even notice it.

      Things my kids like:
      – white yoghurt
      – blended broccoli soup
      – sausage with ketchup
      – buckwheat porridge
      – white grape
      – apple
      – tomato
      – hummus made without spice (just chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice)
      …and of course all kinds of sweets, but we are trying reduce this part.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Some stuff just does not physically taste the same to a child’s palette as to an adult. children are more sensitive to bitter tastes for example:

      (and I can corroborate some other things people are saying in the thread match my experience: 1. eating things by themselves rather than mixed, 2. preferring firmer/less “slimy” foods. And also raw vegetables in preference of overcooked)

      Not sure you are accounting for that or not.

      Regardless, what I would do is make a challenge/bet/game out of it:

      “If you can eat all your [whatevers] for three months straight then I’ll get you a [bike or whatever], and I won’t complain any more if you are picky, because you’ll have proven that you’re not avoiding the food from squeamishness”.

      and then not let up on them until either the three months is over, or they really can’t handle it.

      And the result will be either that so much consistent practice cures them of some of their pickiness, in which case problem solved, or it doesn’t, in which case problem solved also, because you know the preference is genuinely deep seated.

  2. Belisaurus Rex says:

    Wish you Were Here > The Wall > Division Bell > Dark Side of the Moon > Animals > Piper > the rest.

    The Wall would be lower if it didn’t have so much content.

  3. Grek says:

    Surely the answer for voting by mail is to look at it from an intraparty perspective rather than from a partisan perspective?

    If we assume that Democratic incumbents stand to benefit from higher voter participation (or the specific kinds of increased voter participation which would result from voting by mail?) in their districts, while Republican incumbents are threatened by the same, then the Democratic enthusiasm and the Republican distrust of the idea would make a great deal more sense. Someone should investigate to see if this idea holds water.

    • Erusian says:

      As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the increase in voting from mail voting correlates highly with post office density. This means that the biggest increase is in urban centers, which means it benefits Democrats to Republicans about two to one (for every three additional people who vote, two will be Democrats). This is why the Democrats want it (and not other proposals like increased rural polling stations, which would increase turnout of a different kind of voter) and Republicans don’t.

      • Garrett says:

        Related involves the definition of “food desert”, generally talking about areas where people don’t have access to affordable nutritious food. The USDA defined that is being further than 1 mile from a supermarket in urban/suburban areas, and more than 10 miles in rural areas. The idea that somehow being 1.1 miles from a grocery store in a suburb is a tragedy but 9.9 miles away from a grocery store in a rural area is perfectly fine just confuses me. Pick a standard and run with it.

        • Jon S says:

          It takes a lot longer to travel N miles in an urban area than a rural area.

          • Garrett says:

            Fair enough. But if that’s the key issue, the definition should be based on expected travel time.

      • keaswaran says:

        Just wondering where this two-to-one number came from. If it’s about urban centers, I would have expected more like a five-to-one ratio, so I’m guessing you had some source on this number? But the things I’ve seen suggest that voting by mail doesn’t actually affect election outcomes very much (as observed in the switchovers in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado over the past few decades).

  4. johan_larson says:

    Most surprising part of the COVID-19 crisis so far, anyone?

    For me, it’s the sudden boom in sourdough bread. It turns out being cooped up at home makes people want to bake, and when lots of people suddenly have this urge, we run out of yeast. In response, people have started making sourdough bread, which doesn’t require commercially produced yeast. (It does use yeast, but it’s yeast that was present anyway, and which is encourage to multiply in the sourdough starter.)

    As ever, XKCD is on the case:

    • Kaitian says:

      I live in a sourdough bread area, but in the quarantine we made our first bread — white wheat bread with yeast! Then some banana bread with baking soda.
      I wonder if one could use a cup of kefir to rise dough, it has yeast after all.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The internet has not entirely fallen apart. The supply chain is more or less holding together.
      People switching to wearing masks relatively quickly.

    • keaswaran says:

      I don’t think this is the full explanation of the sourdough boom. I think a bigger part is just that there’s a large latent pool of potential sourdough enthusiasts. Their enthusiasm has been dampened because work trips make it hard to feed your starter, and the actual breadmaking process involves several steps that are spaced several hours apart, and thus are hard to time right if you’re sleeping for 8 hours and out of the house for another 8 hours. But now that you’re no longer traveling, you don’t have to worry about feeding your started, and now that you’re no longer commuting, you don’t have to worry if your proof has worked at 2:30 pm since you can just take a break for the next step. (Source: my partner is very into this. I’m sure I don’t have the right verb for the proof.)

  5. Canyon Fern says:

    @DavidFriedman, your redesigned website looks fantastic! Great job.

  6. Jaskologist says:

    The Pharisees in the Gospels were in a purity-signalling spiral. This is a major and repeated complaint of Jesus (Matt 6, Matt 23), to the point that he tells people it’s better to do their good deeds in complete secrecy.

    It’s so important to avoid this particular failure mode that in Acts God kills a couple who sell their land, donate much of the money to the church, but claim they have donated all of this. The text is clear that there would have been no issue if they’d either kept all the money for themselves, or been honest that they weren’t donating the whole amount.

    • Kaitian says:

      I dont think the text is clear that lying was the problem:

      Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

      3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

      To me it always sounded like the problem is that he didn’t give all of his money to the church, instead of hiding some part. I don’t see an explicit statement that he would have been allowed to keep it. It also happens in a context where giving away literally all you have (beyond the bare necessities) is emphasized a lot.

      This bible passage has always bothered me, since killing people for not giving you more money seems pretty crude. So I was quite happy to read your interpretation, but I don’t see it in the text.

      • Ketil says:

        To me, Peter makes a big deal about lying in front of the Lord, but I think there was an assumption or requirement that they should give it all – otherwise, why lie about it? Absent such a requirement, I think giving say half of your wealth would suffice for virtue signaling purposes.

      • Deiseach says:

        To me it always sounded like the problem is that he didn’t give all of his money to the church, instead of hiding some part

        Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing?

        That seems to be the part which says “the land was yours, you could sell it or not as you wished, and when you had the money you could do what you liked with it”.

        The fault is then (a) selling the land and keeping back some of the money while (b) lying to God. Peter is saying “It’s not me and the others you are trying to deceive, it’s God and do you really think God is fooled?”

        Ananias and Sapphira are being greedy because they want to be given the same good repute as others who did donate everything, without the corresponding sacifice, and they are trying to make a fool of God by pretending “hey look at us, we gave you everything!” That is the great offence:

        you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land/You have not lied just to human beings but to God

        I think giving say half of your wealth would suffice for virtue signaling purposes.

        And the whole point is not signalling virtue but being virtuous. Even this early in the Church, here are people who are being deceitful, who don’t want to give everything, who are holding back some part for themselves, and trying to make a deal with God or think they can fool God. At the very worst, it’s demonstrating they don’t even believe in God at all – they can get status and kudos in this new community by gaming the system and putting on the appearance of being wholly committed, but this whole ‘God’ thing is silly and they’re only in it for other reasons.

        There certainly is the expectation that everyone will live in community and share their goods, see Acts 2 and Acts 4 for the description:

        44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

        32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

        This is the context in which the story of Ananias and Sapphira takes place, and it demonstrates that they are violating community norms and betraying (so it is felt) their fellow-members. They don’t demonstrate trust – if they were worried that they wouldn’t have enough money to live on themselves, they could have explained this to the community or the leaders as to why they didn’t give all the money received – and they are trying to manipulate the perception of others – “see, we’re as good as Barnabas!” – in a worldly fashion.

        But Peter’s rebuke is meant to convey that this is not a worldly transaction; this is something given before God, promised to God, and you are not merely trying to deceive ordinary fallible humans, you are trying to deceive God Almighty. Better to refuse to sell anything, or to keep all the money for themselves, than to be lukewarm and deceitful in giving.

        I wonder if here there is also the echo of the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees in Mark 7 about corban:

        9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) – 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

        The Pharisees’ decision here allowed people to avoid their obligations to their family by a technical trick – what I’m reading here is an implication that the money ‘devoted to God’ need not necesssarily be immediately handed over to the Temple but the unfilial son retained use of it, so in the same way the money that Ananias and Sapphira are holding back is, in a sense, corban and they are also trying to cheat their obligations to their fellows by a trick.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          That seems to be the part which says “the land was yours, you could sell it or not as you wished, and when you had the money you could do what you liked with it”.

          That is a charitable reading.

          An less charitable one might be: “The land was yours, so nobody had legal title to prevent you from selling it. After selling it, you had all the cash in hand, as opposed to – say – holding a debt that has not yet been repaid (or even being held in debt for some of it).”

          In other words, Peter seems – on plain reading – to be saying that there were no objective reasons why Ananias would be unable to sell the land and – having sold it – give all the money to the community.

          The “you could do what you liked with it” bit is conspicuous by its absence.

          Indeed, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” speaks against such an interpretation. Again, the plainly stated social norm was that everything you owned was to be donated to the community (in proceeds from sale, if need be).

          Whether we find the norm and the method of enforcing it agreeable or not is irrelevant to the question whether Ananias and Sapphira were killed simply because they didn’t donate everything they had and, on plain reading, it appears that, yes, this was exactly the reason.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, I am going to fight on this.

          “And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? ”

          “At your disposal” is where I am getting “you could do what you liked with it”.

          whether Ananias and Sapphira were killed simply because they didn’t donate everything they had and, on plain reading, it appears that, yes, this was exactly the reason

          The traditional reading is that the lying was the fault here, not the hanging on to part of the price. Proverbial references are to “lying/lied like Ananias” not “stuck some of the money under the mattress like Ananias”.

          That is what Peter says: “you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land/You have not lied just to human beings but to God“.

          Ananias and Sapphira are pretending – lying – “here is all the money we got from the sale of the land” and Peter rebukes them that it has been supernaturally revealed to him that this is a lie.

          Now, if you want to take it that they died for not handing over all the dosh simpliciter, then the story would have been that they sold the land, kept some of the money, and told the apostles “here is the rest of the money we got”.

          But that is not the story, the story brings in the lying to God and the Holy Spirit. If the moral is “all property is held in common, holding back is punished”, then the lying about “this is all the money” would not be an element.

          Say what you want about Peter, and it has been said; stupid, impulsive, cowardly, all the rest of it – he’s not the type to call down fire and brimstone just for the heck of it (that was James and John, the sons of thunder, who wanted to call down fire from heaven: “53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”).

        • Kaitian says:


          But in the text, Ananias doesn’t lie. It doesn’t say “Ananias brought the rest and said that this was the whole price he got”. His wife says that, but he doesn’t. So his lie is an implicit lie — he joined a club where the rules are “give us all your money” and then he didn’t give them all his money. I don’t see an option to give some of the money to the church.

          Now, it makes sense to exclude him from the club for that, but the death penalty is a bit much. I guess the one saving grace is that the text doesn’t specify what killed them, or whether Peter intended for that to happen. Maybe they just died of shame.

          But it’s heartening that the church’s traditional position is “if he had been honest about not giving everything, he could have stayed alive and in good standing with the church”. While I don’t think that’s a straightforward reading of the text, at least the church sees the problem.

        • Deiseach says:

          But in the text, Ananias doesn’t lie. It doesn’t say “Ananias brought the rest and said that this was the whole price he got”. His wife says that, but he doesn’t.

          Sapphira says it afterwards, after Ananias has been struck down. Peter is testing her, and she fails; now, while it is possible that she could innocently answer “yes, this is all the money” if Ananias had deceived her about it, we are told that she knew beforehand because it was a joint sale by them both:

          5 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

          So she is confirming the false story and trying to perpetuate the deception, instead of telling the truth, and so invokes the same punishment:

          7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

          “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

          I think our deeper disagreement here is that you think this is very severe, not to say disproportionate, punishment for the sake of holding back some cash of YOUR OWN MONEY from the sale of YOUR OWN PROPERTY, but I think that this is perjury which is very grave 🙂

          An oath properly taken is an act of worship because it implies that God as witness to the truth is omniscient and infallible. Hence the wickedness of invoking the Divine testimony to confirm an untruth is specially criminal.

          Ananias and Sapphira are lying to the apostles, which is lying to the Church (both local and universal) and, by extension, implying that this is the equivalent of testimony under oath (when Peter questions them both), and as explained above, making God who is Ultimate Truth the guarantor of what is false is impious and blasphemous.

  7. Rebecca Friedman says:

    French Revolution, anyone?

    – By what I’ve read significant cultural penetration, at least in the Parisian upper class.
    – This one doesn’t need explaining
    – They renamed the months, killed most of the previous aristocracy…
    – I don’t know enough to know how/if this applies; I get a sense of disdain for luxuries but could be wrong.
    – How are you today, Citizen? And a shift from vous to tu (in both cases, meant to emphasize that we are all equal).
    – My impression is it got more severe over time, but I’m not an expert. It eventually burned itself out.

    As for the endpoints:

    – I’m actually not sure which classes were mostly involved in the philosophy end of it; as may or may not be clear, I’m going on a 101-level knowledge of the subject and would be delighted to hear from an actual expert. So, er “That sounds plausible but really no idea in this case”?
    – Falls pretty neatly under political mysticism
    – High taxes and famine are both credited with setting it off.
    – Napoleon tried to take over Europe.

    (In case it wasn’t clear, the above is somewhat tongue-in-cheek (I’m not sure the French Revolution fits, it was just what leapt out at me from your description) except for the bit about wanting to hear from an expert on the period; I would love to hear from an expert on the period. The bit about the 101 course was… well, literally it was a 102 course, but same thing.

    Specifically, I’m not sure how far it penetrated into the culture, or how much of the executing fellow revolutionaries/random people who happened to be nobles but had no power was purity spiraling as opposed to political infighting; I’m used to the former as the standard story for the Terror but that doesn’t mean it’s right, and I haven’t looked deeply into it; it’s kind of disturbing.)

    • Jaskologist says:

      All the Communist Revolutions, really, of which the French was clearly a precursor. Communist Russia, China’s Cultural Revolution, they all did this.

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        That’s an interesting way to look at it. Where do you place the American Revolution in that intellectual tradition? The French Revolution is clearly a precursor – or at least, I’ve always understood it to be – but I wouldn’t call it communist, even though it is built on the belief that all men are created equal.

        • John Schilling says:

          The American Revolution was in no real sense revolutionary; it was just a secessionist civil war fought for basically conservative reasons. The American colonists had by 1776 a well-established political culture of classical liberalism under democratic self-government, which the British Empire sought to upend in a clumsy attempt at increasing tax revenues. Fighting to preserve the status quo, even if under new management, doesn’t really lend itself to the failure modes the OP outlines.

  8. 205guy says:

    In the past century, there were many movements such as the various utopists, hippie communes, and several yogis (eg Rajneesh, Maharishi)–and yes, those categories overlap a lot. There were more political movements such as Black Panthers, John Birch Society, and Nation of Islam (which now espouses dianetics), but I don’t know how they handled “purity”. Jonestown ended as a cult tragedy, but before that it was a religious and social movement that went to a remote place to escape scrutiny.

    I suppose my point is that there are lots of movements in society, more or less harmful/harmless and more or less influential, and it’s impossible to tell whether something gets integrated into the larger culture, breaks away, withers, makes it big, or devolves into a suicidal cult. In the case of the Puritans, hindsight tells us they had enough resources to break away and form a colony, enough luck to survive in newly conquered territory, then as they mingled with other colonists they tempered enough to form a viable state. I suppose the Mormons were able to replicated that whole process 2 centuries later, they might be closest to your criteria.

    In my mind, the internet has also enabled many non-CW subcultures that fit your criteria, anything from early retirement to cosplay. Thinking about it more, there are probably thousands: things like anorexia on instagram, open software, knitting, pick-up artists, atkins/keto/paleo diets, plastic-free/eco living, etc. These subcultures might not have the extreme status and purging, but there is definitely some gatekeeping. By bringing together a critical mass virtually, they gain traction and can have some effect on the larger culture. On the other hand, while the internet is the great meeting-place for subcultures, it is also tempering because it still allows individual to see conflicting views and is not physically isolating.

  9. proyas says:

    PV solar panels are more efficient at converting sunlight into energy than photosynthetic plants are. Panels are 15-20% efficient, while plants are only 4.5-6% efficient. (Source:

    Could our machines also harness more energy directly from food crops than the human digestive tract extracts from them? For example, how much usable energy could you extract from 1 kilo of dried grain if you burned it in a furnace and used the heat to power a machine compared to the amount of usable energy you would get it you ate the grain?

    • actinide meta says:

      Is your goal mechanical energy? If so, I think humans are only ~20% efficient, and I think large scale industrial power plants (e.g. gas turbine + steam turbine for waste heat recovery) are ~60% efficient at turning chemical energy into mechanical energy, and I suppose you could probably build one to run on dried grain if it was important.

      If your goal is chemical energy in the form of ADP->ATP to run cells, I think mitochondria are more like ~60% efficient and I don’t know if a chemical plant can do better or not.

      If your goal is creative work, feeding humans is still the cheapest way to get it done, but the domain where this is true is slowly shrinking.

      • LesHapablap says:

        You could use an existing gas turbine and run it on grain as long as you have an effective way to deliver atomized grain into the combustion chamber. So you’d just have to replace the fuel nozzles. Those things will run on anything.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          I’m not a gas turbine engineer, but I’d expect grains to burn too slowly and produce too much soot to be usable as fuel in an internal combustion gas turbine. You can burn them to boil water and feed the steam to a turbine, but this is less efficient.

          • noyann says:

            The wood gas approach could work.

          • Lambert says:

            Heat engines scale up stupidly well. You could probably run a gas turbine on grain if you made it the size of a house.

            More realistically:
            a) Don’t use grain. You don’t care if the calories are in a human-edible form.
            Use planted softwood or some kind of waste as your biomass.
            b) smash the biomass up a bit, to maximise surface area.
            c) if there’s enough volatiles in your biomass, gasify it then run a turbine off the CO and H2 produced.
            d) smash up the remaining charcoal a bit more, almost till it’s dust.
            e) regeneratively heat the charcoal till it’s glowing.
            f) burn it.
            g) use any waste heat to run a steam turbine.

          • LesHapablap says:

            You’d have to atomize them but yes, it wouldn’t burn cleanly.

    • Ketil says:

      Could our machines also harness more energy directly from food crops than the human digestive tract extracts from them?

      Isn’t this what biofuels are trying to do? Problem is, agriculture is mostly a net loss of energy, so you need more energy for fertilizer production and machinery than you get out of it.

      For mechanics, I believe electric drive trains have efficiencies up in the nineties, so likely more efficient than anything biological.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        For mechanics, I believe electric drive trains have efficiencies up in the nineties, so likely more efficient than anything biological.

        But this is mechanical-to-mechanical energy, so there is no Carnot limit.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      For example, how much usable energy could you extract from 1 kilo of dried grain if you burned it in a furnace and used the heat to power a machine compared to the amount of usable energy you would get it you ate the grain?

      Coal-fired power plants have about 40% thermal-to-electric efficiency, I doubt you could get any better with grain. Grains would also pollute much more, as they have high protein content as far as vegetable matter goes, and proteins contain nitrogen and sulfur, which turn into nasty oxides when you burn them.

    • keaswaran says:

      We do have machines that harness a lot of energy more directly from food crops than our digestive tracts do. This is what cooking and chewing and so on are all about.

      But in all these cases, we’re not just converting raw materials into some universal raw energy – it matters whether you have energy in the form of electricity, fuel, a living body, or something else.

  10. mefrem says:

    What’s the best popular account of evolutionary psychology? I say popular not because I’m loathe to read something technical but because I don’t want to read a paper, unless you think it qualifies.

    • I liked The Adapted Mind, by Tooby, Cosmides, and Barkow. It’s somewhere between popular and technical. And very interesting.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        The Mating Mind (free pdf online, Geoffrey Miller).

        This book is less “because of the African savanna” and more “sexual selection and peacock feathers” and very anthropocentric. There’s another book, I believe called the Red Queen’s Race, that is more general.

    • Dack says:

      Does Just So Stories by Kipling count?

      • LudwigNagasena says:

        I have honestly never understood this criticism. It usually comes from people who don’t question stuff like continental philosophy and sociology. Like, how can you think that a field of study that is based on phylogenetics, ecology, paleontology and even game theory is just a bunch of “just so stories”; while grandoise theories based on “poststructuralism”, “philosophical geneology” and “history of ideas” are fair game. Seems like a perfect example of an isolated demand for rigor.

  11. proyas says:

    How many American marriages exist only because one spouse depends on the other’s employer-provided family health insurance? 

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      The word “only” is doing a lot of work there, and I think it forces the answer to be “essentially none”.

      • sksnsvbanap says:

        I think the intended question could be rephrased: “How many marriages would not exist, but for employer provided health insurance?”

    • Statismagician says:

      Given that Medicaid and COBRA exist, none, technically.

      Probably some low-five digit number of people who would otherwise have gotten a relatively amicable divorce stay technically married for this reason simply because ‘all American marriages’ is a large, weird sample.

      • Jon S says:

        My parents remained technically married for an additional 6-8 years (until my mom turned 65) for precisely this reason.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Given that Medicaid and COBRA exist, none, technically.

        So why do employers bother providing health insurance, and why do employees consider it an important part of their compensation, given that Medicaid and COBRA exist?

        • Statismagician says:

          Originally as a sneaky tax-advantaged pay increase, currently because widespread use of this technique broke the free market for health care and consequently nobody competent will work for you if you don’t.

        • keaswaran says:

          Medicaid works for people without a job (which are presumably a substantial fraction of people supposedly staying with their spouse solely for insurance purposes).

          I think COBRA is actually irrelevant though, since it just allows you to pay the full cost of the health insurance plan you were last on, and I believe it is limited to 12 months.

    • Emily says:

      Obamacare should present a natural experiment for this – not a perfect one, but something. Oh, and you have the state-by-state variation as well.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I got married back in 1983 to my then girlfriend to put her on my employer’s health insurance. We were perfectly happy living together as singles otherwise. Maybe we would have gotten married eventually anyway (say when we had children), but perhaps that is at least one. I suspect there are many others who have gotten married over the years for which that was at least one of the issues. Less common now because employer health insurance requires a lot more co-pays these days, but it still saves money for most people.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I know a couple which got married when a partner was diagnosed with a major disease.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Also, income tax interacts with marriage in a way that most married couples pay lower income taxes compared to singles earning the same amount of money. This can also be a factor.

      • keaswaran says:

        I think it works out that way if one spouse earns a lot and the other earns very little – instead of the high income spouse paying the top tax bracket and the low income spouse paying the lowest tax bracket, they both pay a middle tax bracket. But if both spouses are in the middle range, then marriage changes the cutoffs of the tax brackets by a little bit, and so can push you slightly higher.

        • Jon S says:

          This varies with each change in the tax brackets, but I suspect a majority of two-income married couples pay net higher taxes than they would if each was single. In most cases the penalty is small, but IIRC it can be as large as ~$10k.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Except for the top tax bracket (two people making over $622,050 combined) the marriage penalty has been eliminated in the US:

            Thus if there’s any difference in income amount between the two people it’s likely worth considering marriage from a tax arbitrage viewpoint.

            Deductions and exemptions and AMT I have no idea.

  12. Matt M says:

    A new contender has emerged in our ongoing search for capitalism’s most ridiculous COVID-inspired invention, aka the “Juicero of PPE” award.

  13. SamChevre says:

    I’m not sure if they pass the “no tiny cults” rule, but this dynamic is pervasive in the Plain world.

  14. Statismagician says:

    Do high-relativistic-velocity impacts produce significant radiation, either in absolute terms or in comparison to their kinetic effects? Prompted by pointless sci-fi arguments, I’m not planning an attack on the local planning office on Alpha Centauri, he said, not-at-all-suspiciously.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      According to there are fusion events.

    • keaswaran says:

      Do you count indirect radiation from impact-related heating leading to blackbody effects?

      • Statismagician says:

        I’m going to say no; the argument was about whether hitting a target with a relativistic projectile would generate enough radiation to damage targets not affected by the kinetic/thermal effects. Presumably anything that was going to receive significant blackbody radiation is already inside the fireball.

    • John Schilling says:

      Do high-relativistic-velocity impacts produce significant radiation

      A high-relativistic-velocity impact is significant radiation. It’s a ginormous highly concentrated pulse of combined high-energy proton and neutron radiation in the GeV range, with a side order of MeV beta rays. The fact that, in the reference frame of the impactor, all these rays can be viewed as being bound into nuclei and atoms and molecules and even large solid objects, is irrelevant trivia from the target’s point of view.

    • Lambert says:

      If nothing else, the charged matter of the projectile slowing down from relativistic speeds would produce significant X/gamma bremstrahlung.

      Narrower questions:
      Will there be particles emitted from the impact site that can penetrate a couple of inches of tissue then mess up DNA, but not with a high enough energy flux to kill you instantly? Can said particles penetrate brick, steel, tinfoil hats, lead, dirt?

      Will the impact transmute nuclei and will a significant number of these nuclei be unstable with a half life of at least a few seconds (but not as long as gigayears)?

    • fibio says:

      As others have mentioned impacts at relativistic speeds do produce radioactive byproducts so technically yes. If you’re wondering if this is anything on the same order as a fission bomb then most likely no. A good chunk of the radiation seen in fallout is the result of unreacted fissionables in the bomb being widely dispersed and irradiating debris as they travel. If you remove these byproducts by using an equivalent energy relativistic impactor you only have the secondary radiation sources to be concerned with and these tend to be short lived and less impactful, fading after just a few weeks.

      I would guesstimate that any fallout from relativistic impactors is pretty negligible in comparison to their blast effects but I can’t find any sources with a quick google to provide a more precise measure.

      • John Schilling says:

        I would guesstimate that any fallout from relativistic impactors is pretty negligible in comparison to their blast effects but I can’t find any sources with a quick google to provide a more precise measure.

        The place to look is for studies of cosmic ray spallation, which is basically just the single-nuclei case of a relativistic impactor. It’s a remarkably messy process, producing a random blend of stable, long-lived, and short-lived isotopes plus a whole lot of free neutrons looking for something to bind with. And note that a 1000-ton impactor at 0.99c will be roughly equivalent to the combined cosmic-ray dose experienced by the entire Earth in its entire existence.

        • fibio says:

          I’m not sure anyone’s overly worried about nuclear fallout after a 1.5 Teraton impact. 😛

    • Lambert says:

      Another thought: if you vaporised the whole of Dartmoor and stuck all the vapour in the stratosphere, how much would the trace amounts of uranium, radium, thorium etc. in the granite increase the global background radiation as it fell out?

      Yet another:
      Heavy ion radiation seems to really mess up DNA.
      It’s used to destroy tumors, but that’s mostly to do with the bragg peak letting you focus the damage more. (fast hadrons have a lower cross-section in tissues, so if you shoot them in with the right amount of energy, they’re slowed down a bit by the healthy tissue. by the time they reach the cancerous cells, they’re slow enough that they dump all their energy there.)

  15. Nick says:

    The later history of Jansenism is probably not a bad fit. The wiki page bizarrely only alludes to it, but Jansenists were best known for their disputes with the Jesuits where they accused the Jesuits of being moral laxists and the Jesuits accused the Jansenists of being moral rigorists. You can see some of this for instance in the writings of Blaise Pascal. The allegation of moral rigorism stuck with them for a long time, and it seems they did advocate a stricter morality, regardless of whether the charge of rigorism fits.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia article has more detail, like this funny line:

    At Paris, St-Cyran, who was powerful through his relations besides being very active, succeeded in spreading simultaneously the doctrines of the “Augustinus” and the principles of an exaggerated moral and disciplinary rigorism, all under the pretence of a return to the primitive Church. He had succeeded especially in winning over to his ideas the influential and numerous family of Arnauld of Andilly, notably Mère Angélique Arnauld, Abbess of Port-Royal, and through her the religious of that important convent. When he died, in 1643, Doctor Antoine* Arnauld quite naturally succeeded him in the direction of the movement which he had created. The new leader lost no time in asserting himself in startling fashion by the publication of his book “On Frequent Communion”, which would have been more correctly entitled “Against Frequent Communion” but which, as it was written with skill and a great display of erudition, did not a little towards strengthening the party.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh yeah, I love this one because Pascal was on the side of the Jansenists, being close friends with the Abbess of Port-Royal, a convent of which the exasperated Archbishop of Paris said they were “as pure as angels and proud as devils”. The row between the likes of Pascal and the Jesuits is immensely entertaining.

      Jansenism as it developed is fascinating, because whatever the eponymous Jansen believed, followers and those influenced by it took it in different directions, some to quite bizarre extemes (see the Convulsionnaires). As an attempt to bring Calvinism into Catholicism (which was not the explicit intent of anyone though it worked out like that), it didn’t quite catch on, but it was influential – the Church in Ireland was often accused of a strong Jansenist tendency.

      And we got a gorgeous movie out of it, the 1991 Tous Les Matins du Monde, with exquisite music of the period.

  16. S_J says:

    I’m trying to think of a national-level politician in the US who didn’t take advantage of group think, or who discouraged group-think.

    Another commenter mentioned the Bay of Pigs fiasco, so I’ll begin with Kennedy. Did he encourage group think? He made several famous speeches about America being a friend of liberty and enemy of Communism worldwide. Whether that goal was noble or ignoble, it was definitely an “us vs. them” attitude.

    What about Lyndon Johnson? The whole “War on Poverty” and “Great Society” effort uses a kind of group think. Did voters want to be with the in-group that supported those causes, or with the out-group that didn’t support the cause?

    Then there was Nixon’s “silent majority”. There’s a lot of group think in that slogan. It feels like an early version of complaints about the mainstream media, or complaints about the elites of the media/academia.

    Later Presidents (Ford, Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump) can be charged with group think in various ways. But I think I’ll leave those examples unexplored for the moment.

    To return to my main point: group think is not just a hazard of politics. It’s an unavoidable part of politics in a nation as large as the United States.

    • Randy M says:

      I think you are conflating “group think” with “us versus them”– which admittedly are similar enough that perhaps I’m seeing distinctions that aren’t there.
      But I think group think is about not wanting to lose status for being wrong and peer pressure rather than wanting to oppose the other, specifically.

      Think Asch conformity experiment versus Standford prison experiment.

    • Uribe says:

      According to Superforcasting the Bay of Pigs was recognized as a huge group think fuck up and active measures were taken to prevent it afterward. Measures such as Robert Kennedy encouraging people to argue, John Kennedy leaving the room and refusing to say what he believed so that nobody could suck up to whatever his position was. In Superforcasting this change in decision-making is described as a success story during the Missile Crisis.

  17. Radu Floricica says:

    “I think I’m able to discuss this item in a non-CW way” doesn’t make the topic non-CW. For one thing, you could be wrong. For another, people are different.

  18. NostalgiaForInfinity says:

    Does anyone know of any real world set ups for companies / governments that have successfully avoided group think problems? I’ve seen it mentioned as a cause of policy failures (in both private companies and in government projects), but I haven’t any actual examples of how people have persistently avoided it.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I participated in a research project through the university of melbourne a few months ago that was meant to address this. They developed a platform for crowd-sourcing intelligence reports, then tested it by having groups of ‘general public’ compete against actual intelligence agencies to produce reports. It was an interesting experience. Frustrating at times, challenging in places. I certainly learned a lot from it.

      Hunt Lab University of Melbourne

    • Radu Floricica says:

      The iconic example is Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs. Things went so bad then, he actually implemented changes in his policy making. A semi-randomly googled source.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The root organizational cause of the Challenger disaster wasn’t exactly group-think, but the remedy was to create an anonymous out-of-band channel for people to alert to serious problems without worrying about political blowback. (SpaceX has implemented the same thing.)

  19. Lambert says:

    Trump is inherently CW.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Funny enough, it didn’t even look like a cw issue until he used the T word.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m really struggling to think of anything more CW than adding a gratuitous “orange man bad” to the end of one’s post…

  20. Uribe says:

    I’m against socialism but fascinated by it, maybe because I wish it could work. Although, admittedly, I like to see people destroy socialist ideas.

    I feel like there should be more of an argument about socialism on this blog than there is. There are some brilliant socialists out there, but they hold their tongue here.

    I want to encourage more socialist arguments here.

    (Don’t tell me this is a hot button political topic because it isn’t. If it becomes one, good.)

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You’re not alone in this. Scott said the same, and went to some extremes in reading socialist leaning books. Pretty much every time a socialist(ish) here hints that he’s had enough, there’s a chorus encouraging him to stay. I agree, for what’s worth.

      It’s just that… it just doesn’t seem to work. There are a lot of things we’d like to be true but just aren’t. Socialism is probably one of them. It starts to look like clinging to an unsuccessful relationship – at some point everybody’s better of if you let go.

      And if I try to be charitable, I’d mostly say whatever talking points modern socialism has are better served being completely reframed. I for instance like to think in terms of commons. One could think of “society spending wealth in ways it arbitrarily choses”. Or even “automation is coming, competitive advantage for individuals is going to plummet”. Anything to escape the same old class-warfare, corporations-are-evil whirlpool.

      • Garrett says:

        > Anything to escape the same old class-warfare, corporations-are-evil whirlpool.

        FWIW, there are other schools of socialist thought other than those by/about/related to Marx. But for some reason Marx-flavored socialism has become the most … vigorous, I guess, in terms of public discussion.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Any hints/links/terms to google?

          • Nick says:

            Fourier and Proudhon would be two choices. John Stuart Mill advocated socialism in his later work, too (and Helen Andrews has a piece on that curious fact). Here’s a wiki page I found, actually:

          • Belisaurus Rex says:

            Proudhon seems more anarchist than socialist to me, although maybe they blend together in the extremes.

            “To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.”

          • Nick says:

            @Belisaurus Rex
            Yeah, he and James Scott would get along well, don’t you think?

            Proudhon’s form of socialism actually has some attractive qualities for the fainthearted capitalist. First, he doesn’t reject free markets, and he does reject most government interference with them. Second, in line with his anarchism, he favors a kind of self-ownership and self-management by workers.

            IMO, the big flaw is Proudhon’s view of property, which, I’m afraid, is central to his whole philosophy. If I understand him right, he believed private ownership of things like land or factories was immoral as well as impractical. Primarily he wanted all capital to be held in common, so that what the laborer owns is only the product of his labor. I think this goes too far, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with, say, the farmer owning his own land. Or to bring it into the modern day, with my owning the computer I use to write code on. As long as the distribution of capital is reasonably equitable (by whatever means society has arranged for that, like a progressive tax and inheritance laws or what have you), there’s little reason not to have private property. But perhaps Proudhon would simply respond that I’m giving away the game by so carefully managing the distribution of capital, and his way is simpler. I dunno.

            Besides that, Proudhon assumed a form of the labor theory of value. So, your mileage may vary.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Proudhon: “Yeah that’s great and everything, but the restrooms are still for paying customers only.”

          • As long as the distribution of capital is reasonably equitable (by whatever means society has arranged for that, like a progressive tax and inheritance laws or what have you)

            Are you using “equitable” to mean something like “equal”? The definitions I find are closer to “fair.”

            John and Bill both earn money by their labor. John spends all his income, Bill saves some of it and eventually uses it to buy some sort of capital. Does transferring some of Bill’s capital to John make the distribution more equitable or less, as you are using the term?

          • Nick says:

            I don’t object to Bill investing his money, though Proudhon might. The reason I consider a wider distribution of capital to be more fair is that no one is made to support himself on someone else’s terms, since unjust labor practices, or foolish or malicious government interference, can make that a bad deal for the worker. (A better deal than starving, but still a bad deal!) Fundamentally, if you own your own land*, you can support yourself. Likewise, if I own my own computer, I can find programming work on my own terms.

            There may be many things wrong with this picture—it doesn’t work for everyone, one can’t always guarantee one’s skills or products are worth enough to live on, etc.—but granting all that I still think it’s a lovely picture.

      • I for instance like to think in terms of commons.

        The property chapter of my Law’s Order is largely about why some things should be private property and some should be commons.

        And one of Coase’s two famous articles is about the tradeoff between market and hierarchy as forms of organization, where he points out that if the strong pro-market side were right there would be no firms.

    • Sandpaper26 says:

      It doesn’t help when Scott says things like ” capitalist economies beat socialist ones” (from his recent post on slack) even though that flies in the face of history. This is an extremely hostile environment for socialist ideas because much of this audience will defend (and even fetishise) “free markets” to their dying breath.

      I think it’s an effect of the EA-ness, honestly.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        I think it’s an effect of the EA-ness, honestly.

        Could you say more about this? The connection isn’t obvious to me.

      • Ketil says:

        I’m sorry you think the environment is “extremely hostile”. While I think free markets will usually be more efficient than strong regulation, and socialism by abolishing private ownership of resources, money, and private trade makes markets less free and usually less efficient, I would be very interested in well reasoned arguments (or even better: evidence) to the contrary.

        (Or maybe you just have a different definition of socialism?)

        Perhaps you can point to a list of socialist countries that beat capitalist countries economically? I won’t argue, but would like to know more about which they are, and how this is measured. I looked at, which seems pretty clear that east bloc countries trailed significantly behind the western countries on most measures, and at best achieved parity.

      • Deiseach says:

        capitalist economies beat socialist ones

        Well, they do. I’m no fan of the Cult of Divine Impeccable Capitalism The One True Only Way, but that is how it has worked out in the real world. If this is your complaint, then it veers to the “Real Socialism has never been tried” argument, and if the various regimes which implemented their version of socialism from Enver Hoxha onwards aren’t Real Socialism, then what is it and where can we get it? Maybe there is a Marx-Engels Platonic Ideal that exists in the ether, but we can only go by what we’ve seen tried in the messiness of the material plane.

      • It doesn’t help when Scott says things like ” capitalist economies beat socialist ones” (from his recent post on slack) even though that flies in the face of history.

        You should repeat and defend that claim in the next CW appropriate thread.

      • Aapje says:


        This is an extremely hostile environment for socialist ideas because much of this audience will defend (and even fetishise) “free markets” to their dying breath.

        I see a decent bit of push back against that (although not necessarily by socialists).

        Even if it were true, I don’t see how does that make for an extremely hostile environment? Do you feel that you are unable to make your arguments, that people refuse to engage those arguments fairly, that there is too much opposition (and thus perhaps too much burden on one person to rebut very many comments) or something else?

        • Desrbwb says:

          I’d say ‘too much opposition’ is pretty fair. In this thread alone there’s at least 4 (Uribe, Radu, Ketil and DavidFriedman) maybe 6 (Daiseach and yourself) expressing some form of anti-socialist viewpoints, some clearly very initially hostile (particularly Radu). And that’s lighter than normal with a few of the more pervasive right wing voices currently banned. Even if you are keen to engage with opponents of socialism, that’s up to 6 different argument chains to follow. That’s going to be exhausting, and it’ll happen every time.

          • Deiseach says:

            that’s up to 6 different argument chains to follow.

            I dispute that, we all seem to be taking that contention about “capitalist economies beat socialist ones …even though that flies in the face of history” and going “oh no it don’t”.

            That’s one argument chain that should be easy enough to defend: how does this fly in the face of history, what are the successful socialist economies that equalled or beat capitalist ones? Go!

            Come on, if I can argue amateur Catholic theology from Transubstantiation to the telos of marriage to Scriptural exegesis to ‘Shroud of Turin – first class relic or simply devotional object?’, surely a Socialist can handle six points of contention? Don’t tell me modern Socialism is slacking off on how to argue dialectical materialism! 🙂

          • Desrbwb says:

            You and Ketil, maybe (though Ketil also included more general pro-capitalist opinions). But Uribe and Radu were not involved in that comment chain, and Aapje (maybe, less certain of his politics, but its the vibe I get) and DF are more generalised ‘anti-socialists’ based on what I remember about their post history. But the point was that’s up to 6 different people to engage with on this thread alone. And this isn’t even an ‘argue about socialism’ thread. So I could definitely see volume of responses putting off individual commenters.

            Now, on the specific issue, imo saying that “capitalist economies beat socialist ones” is a useless statement, as at best you’d need to define what counts as a ‘capitalist economy’, ‘socialist economy’ and ‘beat’ before you can have a real discussion about it. Which is part of the problem of why I’m reluctant to debate socialism online, it just seems to devolve to arguing definitions (that and the potential to just make me depressed or angry).

          • Aapje says:


            Using the same definitions are crucial, because otherwise one person is criticizing/defending communism and the other is criticizing/defending social-democracy.

            In my response to qwints I was mostly just trying to figure out what exactly was meant.

            I consider myself rather centrist, economically, which is only anti-socialist if you regard social-democracy as anti-socialist.

          • Deiseach says:

            at best you’d need to define what counts as a ‘capitalist economy’, ‘socialist economy’ and ‘beat’ before you can have a real discussion about it

            Well, yes? It’s not much use here if we’re arguing over ranking Pink Floyd’s Greatest Hits and then it turns out one of us is using The Moody Blues songs as “hits by The Floyd”.

            It’s sort of basic that we define what we mean by “this, that and those” before we get to the hair-pulling and name-calling?

            As to being “anti-socialist”, well I am and I amn’t. I’m very sympathetically inclined to old-school Labour before they decided to get all modern and Tory-lite (in my own country as well as next door) for the sake of electability and getting their hands on the levers of power so they could dump the working class and woo the middle-class, and I’d have a kind word to throw to the Wobblies via the links with James Connolly in Irish history/politics. (So far as I know, modern trades unions no longer have a paramilitary arm 🙂

            All of which is to say I am more on the level of grass-roots, shop-floor activism rather than grand overarching theoretical underpinnings about pulling down the entirety of society; I am with Chesterton about:

            With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilisation. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

            But I’m certainly on the right side of the spectrum when it comes to social conservatism!

          • qwints says:

            (So far as I know, modern trades unions no longer have a paramilitary arm 🙂

            This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Let’s see if I can properly respond to that. Yes, there is a lot of opposition and that’s pretty tiring. But I think my first comment (the hostile one) suggested the solution: stop trying things the same old ways. That path is beaten, and yes, I think it’s pretty fair to say it’s beaten to death.

            But like people were quick to point out, including my comment and answers to it, this is not the only possible path.

            I don’t think it’s fair to come to an open, civilized forum and complain that your ideas aren’t better supported. We aren’t distributing equal support for every idea. If there is too much pushback AND the pushback is civilized AND the pushback is at the very least internally consistent, and that’s been happening for years – maybe the idea is wrong. Or at the very least, the approach is wrong. And we very very much would like to see some new ways to approach the issue.

          • Desrbwb says:


            Then my apologies, I must have misremembered something or gotten you confused with someone else.

            Likewise, sorry that I appear to have misjudged your position.

            I agree with the sentiment here. Yes, definitions are important. But, for example, take Radu’s statement from another part of this thread, that “It’s just that… it just doesn’t seem to work.”. I wholeheartedly disagree with this, but I’d bet that if asked what Radu means by ‘socialism’ you’d get a very different answer to me (and that’s all I really want to say on that right now, if a similar sequence occurs in the next CW thread I may get further into the weeds). This compounds when dealing with multiple people, as you’d have to confront, define and address each differing definition separately. Which adds to the initial point I was trying to make, that engaging seriously with multiple people simultaneously like that (whatever the subject) is draining. Hence why I could see ‘too much opposition’ making people with the outnumbered opinion more reluctant to post/get involved.

          • smocc says:


            I have a tangential question for you about the definition of “socialism”, if you don’t mind.

            I’ve gotten into some debates recently with friends who are self-described socialists (and Bernie supporters) and we’ve ended up determining that we are using different definitions of socialism. Basically, I was thinking about the dictionary definition about community ownership of means of production while they mean something about democracy and popular input into politics or anti-oligarchy or something that I’m still not clear about.

            My question is why keep using the word “socialism”? If the word keeps getting in the way of people accepting what you’re arguing about why keep using it? Especially considering that it is one of the biggest “boo”-words of 20th century politics. Is there some advantage or objective for using the word that I’m missing?

          • Deiseach says:

            qwints, the Irish Citizen Army had their own uniform and were open to women whom they trained in the use of arms, as well as the men 🙂

          • This compounds when dealing with multiple people, as you’d have to confront, define and address each differing definition separately.

            If what you want to do is to defend your position, all you need do is offer your definitions. You then have to defend them, and the claims made using them, against attacks from a variety of different positions.

            If, for example, you use the “state ownership and control of the means of production” definition, you have to defend it against Aapje, who would argue (I think) that social democracy, sometimes also called socialism, and consisting of a market economy with a good deal of government redistribution and control, is better. You would have to defend it against me arguing that a pure market economy with little or no government is better. And you could defend it against Honcho, arguing from a third position.

            But you could do all of that in terms of a single definition of socialism.

            I routinely have to defend my position against attacks from a variety of other positions. It occurs to me that this is one of the few environments I have spent much time in where my position may be more common than yours.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Even if you are keen to engage with opponents of socialism, that’s up to 6 different argument chains to follow. That’s going to be exhausting, and it’ll happen every time.

            Yes, Desrbwb is absolutely right. I’ve been well in the minority in various internet discussions with 6 people attacking me, and it simply isn’t possible to respond coherently. SSC folks try hard to be civil and so there are few nasty comments, but it simply doesn’t work with 6 against 1. This is what happens when there is a minority position where several in the majority are very interested in the subject and so want to interject their point of view. Socialism is one of those positions on SSC that doesn’t work in our back and forth threads because of this effect. There are probably some other subjects like this (folks who argue for SJ I suppose), but not too many. I think lots of folks here would like to hear an intelligent argument for socialism, but I understand why they don’t want to stick out their noses. Maybe if someone could make an effort post advocating socialism, while stating that they will not join the argumentation in response? There needs to be some way.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Socialism is one of those positions on SSC that doesn’t work in our back and forth threads because of this effect. There are probably some other subjects like this (folks who argue for SJ I suppose), but not too many. I think lots of folks here would like to hear an intelligent argument for socialism, but I understand why they don’t want to stick out their noses. Maybe if someone could make an effort post advocating socialism, while stating that they will not join the argumentation in response? There needs to be some way.

            How do we tell the difference between ideas that are indefensible and ides that are defensible but are overwhelmed for some non factual/logical reasons?

          • Nick says:

            @Mark V Anderson
            Dogpiling is a real thing and should be discouraged, but we do discourage it on SSC. Not perfectly, of course. I agree that if socialists are getting it worse than others, they should say so, and people acting in good faith should abide by that. (Even so, I find it a little weird that socialists alone among the many groups here are so put upon.)

            My rule, which I’ve mentioned here before, is don’t pile on after the third reply, unless you’re really sure you have something to add that the other three didn’t. Maybe it should even be lowered to two.

          • unless you’re really sure you have something to add that the other three didn’t.

            If I understand the descriptions of the problem correctly, it’s precisely that everyone does have something to add.

            If six people are all making essentially the same argument against your position, you only need one response. If six people are making six different arguments you need six responses, which is a problem if you have limited time and energy but are afraid that if you leave an argument unanswered observers will conclude that you can’t answer it.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Nick:

            Dogpiling is a real thing and should be discouraged, but we do discourage it on SSC. Not perfectly, of course.

            Not effectively. Note that this line of conversation only started when a dogpilee explicitly raised it – what fraction of dogpiles do you think see any objections at all? It’s a tough thing to quantify, but I’d be astonished if it broke a percentage point – a quick scan of the hOTs suggests it might come up organically a few times a year. (Take albatross out of the equation and it gets even grimmer.)

            I agree that if socialists are getting it worse than others, they should say so, and people acting in good faith should abide by that. (Even so, I find it a little weird that socialists alone among the many groups here are so put upon.)

            Selection mechanisms select against complaints by those selected against. Mark explicitly raised SJ proponents as another such group.

            @ David:

            If six people are making six different arguments you need six responses, which is a problem if you have limited time and energy but are afraid that if you leave an argument unanswered observers will conclude that you can’t answer it.

            Emphasis on the fact that this fear is valid.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            If I understand the descriptions of the problem correctly, it’s precisely that everyone does have something to add.

            Yes this is the issue. Socialism is a multi-faceted issue, and there are lots of different ways of looking at it. And in fact if everyone makes the same argument, then the minority person has it pretty easy; they just respond to that argument. It is responding to the six different arguments that is so time consuming.

            I suspect that 90% of people in the 1st world are against hard socialism (that is, not social democracy), and so I think it isn’t real surprising that there are a lot of nay sayers here. Much of the rest of the Internet is full of lefties, so probably a lot more than 10% socialists in such places and it could be discussed in a reasonable manner. But it really isn’t inside the Overton Window here. In every forum there are subjects where the participants over-whelmingly are on one side, and argumentation doesn’t work. Even SSC.

          • Nick says:

            @Dan L
            Three points. First, you’re leaving out the dogpiles that don’t happen because folks self-police. I wrote a reply to the comment above earlier and didn’t post it, after deciding I didn’t really have anything special add. I’ve seen much more dogpiling on other fora—if SSC really were a free-for-all, Sandpaper26 and Desrbwb would each have received a lot more replies.

            Second, part of the reason I’m skeptical socialists are uniquely put upon is that most of these replies treated them extremely delicately, despite the thread starting with accusations of “extreme hostility.” I don’t for instance see how Radu’s post was “very initially hostile.” David’s extreme hostility amounted to asking them to post again sometime. Pachyderminator asked them to simply expand on something said earlier.

            Third, there’s a difference between a thread where someone is putting forward an argument expecting to be challenged, and a thread where someone is just putting something out there. For example consider one of @Atlas’s several threads where he lays out a giant argument and asks for folks’ comments. He never replies to everyone; he rarely replies to more than a few. But I think it’s evident he’s not there to have a back and forth conversation. Which is fine. Soliciting a lot of replies he can just think about may be more helpful than having a few long arguments. The point, anyway, is that there are conditions—like this thread, I’d say—where dogpiling doesn’t really apply.

            FWIW, if anyone is likely to be dogpiled on SSC, I think it’s much more likely to be an SJ proponent than a socialist.

            This is a valid fear. Personally at least I find it much more exhausting when I respond to someone’s objection and then the two or three or five people repeat the same thing later. It’s like, Can’t you people read? If you thought my answer was insufficient, why don’t you reply to that instead of starting from the beginning? Am I going to have to do this all over again? It’s definitely more exhausting than responding to different and possibly interesting objections.

            Part of it depends on your (proverbial you) attitude toward the argument, though. That is, you can think of dogpiling as an unhappy feeling stemming from a defensive posture. It’s easy to see how being ‘attacked’ from every angle will quickly overwhelm. But if you’re instead here to have a conversation, teach people some new things, and possibly learn something new yourself, you will read less hostility into replies.

            But that’s a bit of a copout. No matter how positively you approach things, an environment where you’re challenged constantly can begin to feel hostile. So with qualifications I concede the point.

          • Dan L says:

            @ Nick:

            I’ve seen much more dogpiling on other fora—if SSC really were a free-for-all, Sandpaper26 and Desrbwb would each have received a lot more replies.

            I am utterly unsympathetic to this entire genre of argument. That someone else fails to meet your standards to a greater degree than you yourself do is not absolution.

            (Also: SSC also lacks many tools that can be used to mitigate the effects of bad behavior. Dogpiling and the comment depth limit in particular are a nasty combination.)

            Second, part of the reason I’m skeptical socialists are uniquely put upon is that most of these replies treated them extremely delicately, despite the thread starting with accusations of “extreme hostility.”

            Correct me if I missed a post, but has anyone else claimed it is unique? I don’t want to harp on this too much if we’re reading a different exchange, but reframing this as a problem unique to socialism would be an overtly hostile piece of rhetoric.

            I don’t for instance see how Radu’s post was “very initially hostile.” David’s extreme hostility amounted to asking them to post again sometime. Pachyderminator asked them to simply expand on something said earlier.

            I believe you. It was an argument favored by one now banned that SSC favors politeness of tone over other epistemic virtues, and by that metric this hasn’t been too bad.

            The point, anyway, is that there are conditions—like this thread, I’d say—where dogpiling doesn’t really apply.

            “This thread” being responses to Uribe, to Sandpaper, to Desrbwb, or these interwoven threads at the comment depth limit? I don’t think you’re entirely off-base in that there are areas where dogpiling isn’t a concern, but be very careful in declaring exceptions to general rules of good behavior.

            FWIW, if anyone is likely to be dogpiled on SSC, I think it’s much more likely to be an SJ proponent than a socialist.

            Absolutely. The degree is arguable, but a desire to see rigorous opposition to SJ is one of the founding pillars of the SSC readership.

    • qwints says:

      I’m a card carrying socialist, and I don’t see much point to engaging in the discussion. Most self-described socialists in the US today aren’t orthodox Marxists looking to convince people of the fundamental truth of the labor theory of value or dialectical materialism. I think most people would agree that the current American political and economic system is a weird hybrid that is very difficult to map onto pre-WWI/great depression theory. And fundamental predictions of Marxism, most notably the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, seem to have been disproven by history or at least to require a severe ‘re-interpretation’ of Marx’s original claim*.

      That said, I think that socialism still is correct in its fundamental insights about how the characteristics of the capitalist mode of production which make is amazingly productive necessarily entail human misery which has become unnecessary due to the surpluses that capitalism has produced. I think we can change society for the better through more democratic control of the economy. And I think the working class who actually makes the world run has the power to change things for the better once they solve their collective action problems, which has been done before and will be done again.

      *though I did find this 2010 working paper with the unusually precise claim that “the rate of profit declines at a rate of approximately 0.3 percent per annum after controlling for the counter-tendencies.”

      • Matt M says:

        think most people would agree that the current American political and economic system is a weird hybrid that is very difficult to map onto pre-WWI/great depression theory.


        I think any honest discussion of socialism has to start with the premise that there are significant portions of the global economy, including in western/developed nations, that are already de facto under state control.

        We can’t have an honest debate about the merits of socialism vs capitalism if we pretend the US as it stands today is 100% of either.

        • Obviously true.

          So that puts those of us who believe in the free market and those who believe in socialism in the same boat — both arguing for a radical change in the present economic system. Just in different directions.

          • Lambert says:

            What about those of use who want a mixed economy but a completely different set of markets to be private/public vs the status quo?

            I think the UK rail franchise system should be radically privatised and/or nationalised.

          • Matt M says:

            You want free markets in education and health care, but the government in charge of software development and clothing production?

      • And I think the working class who actually makes the world run

        Are you a Kipling fan?

      • Aapje says:


        That said, I think that socialism still is correct in its fundamental insights about how the characteristics of the capitalist mode of production which make is amazingly productive necessarily entail human misery which has become unnecessary due to the surpluses that capitalism has produced.

        So doesn’t this imply that you support social-democracy/a hybrid system, as you seem to argue that you still need (quite a bit of) the surpluses of capitalism?

        I think we can change society for the better through more democratic control of the economy.

        Do you think that regular people actually tend to understand economics? Or do you mean ‘control’ more in the sense of electing different elites?

        And I think the working class who actually makes the world run has the power to change things for the better once they solve their collective action problems, which has been done before and will be done again.

        It may be a mistake to see any class as a united front. A lot of that collective action is/was fairly selfish, benefiting those with lots of power, with little solidarity. See France, where certain workers have many benefits, while many others do not, with the former not seeming to care that much about the latter group.

        • qwints says:

          So doesn’t this imply that you support social-democracy/a hybrid system, as you seem to argue that you still need (quite a bit of) the surpluses of capitalism?

          No. The creations of capital don’t go away when moving to a socialism. If ownership of Tesla factories or Amazon warehouses was turned over to the workers tomorrow, the factories and the knowledge of how to use them would still exist.

          do you mean ‘control’ more in the sense of electing different elites?

          I’d probably categorize a system where corporate boards were democratically elected by the public at large as socialist. Generally, I mean a system where the decisions about what to produce and how to produce it aren’t made by people as a result of accumulated wealth but instead are made by people collectively. That might look like democratically selecting a central planning board or workers councils or some combination thereof.

          It may be a mistake to see any class as a united front. A lot of that collective action is/was fairly selfish, benefiting those with lots of power, with little solidarity.

          I’d certainly agree that this has been a common failure mode of working class movements in the last couple centuries. Like many socialists, I think these limited movements (e.g. craft unionism) have produced short term gains for their members but are ultimately unsustainable without broad working class solidarity. The paradigmatic example is the mid 20th century US union movement’s rejection both of an international labor movement and of working with Black and Hispanic workers domestically leading to it being crushed.

          • Aapje says:

            The creations of capital don’t go away when moving to a socialism

            You can’t merely coast on with existing factories. Machines need to be replaced and repaired. Products often need to change/improve to remain competitive and/or adapt to changing desires, requiring changes to the production process. Dealing with changing demand may require buying or selling capital goods. Sometimes, you need a new kind of factory (for example, one that makes electric, rather than combustion cars).

            All of these involve investments that risk capital and many workers are incapable or unwilling to risk their capital (it’s not very prudent to risk both your income and capital by working at and investing in one company). Capital need is not the same as labor need, so capital probably goes to the right place much better if you decouple the two.

            Even merely running existing factories very often involves the risk of producing products without a guarantee that there are customers for (all) the products.

            Ultimately, you need investments and thus shifting capital for the wealth to at least be preserved, in a dynamic environment (which is a fact of life, see COVID).

            Generally, I mean a system where the decisions about what to produce and how to produce it aren’t made by people as a result of accumulated wealth but instead are made by people collectively.

            In capitalism, the potential of focused profits or loss not only produces a strong incentive to specialize in that kind of decision making so one gets good at it (which is a kind of labor, making at least part of ‘profit’ into labor compensation), but also puts more money in the hands of good decision makers and less money in the hands of poor ones.

            Secondly, truly democratic decision making almost never seems to be possible (and certainly not at a larger scale), because inequalities of talent and specialization that often produce disparities in wealth production (which almost inevitably results in disparities in wealth accumulation), also often produce disparities in political power (which can be self-perpetuating, just like wealth).

            It’s far from obvious to me that politicians or voters are always better at making collective decisions, largely for others, than people are at making individual decisions for themselves. The former seems much more prone to biases, lack of knowledge and corruption. There are reasons why some decisions are better made collectively, but others are probably better made individually.

            Having a substantial amount of individual decision making has the big advantage that there is always someone looking out for number 1, yourself. The collective can very easily decide that they don’t like or care for you.

            Like many socialists, I think these limited movements (e.g. craft unionism) have produced short term gains for their members but are ultimately unsustainable without broad working class solidarity.

            Do you think that this lack of solidarity is delusional or rational? Or to put it differently, do you think that all people would be happier and/or be better off in general with large/complete solidarity, or do you think that some should sacrifice for others?

            Do you think that this solidarity can be created without oppression?

          • Generally, I mean a system where the decisions about what to produce and how to produce it aren’t made by people as a result of accumulated wealth but instead are made by people collectively.

            Neither describes capitalism. The decisions are made by the people individually, not collectively, as consumers deciding what to buy and workers deciding where to work.

            If Musk decides to build electric cars and nobody wants to buy them, not many get built. If Uber offered its odd form of employment and nobody wanted to work on those terms, it wouldn’t happen.

            At present, U.S. foreign policy is made by the people collectively, through a democratic system of elected politicians. Are you happy with the result? If not, how would your version of collective decision making differ, and why would it work better?

    • fibio says:

      There’s an old adage that if one isn’t a Socialist by 20 then you have no heart. If you aren’t a Capitalist by 30 then you have no brain.

      I think this is very true, though dearly wish it wasn’t. There is very clearly a deep undercurrent of injustice, both economic and otherwise, in the world that many people rail against the moment they really wrap their heads around it. Unfortunately, if it was a problem easily solved then we would have done it by now. The Liberal Democracy wave of the 19th century only shuffled the deckchairs for most people and the Communist Utopias of the 20th turned out to be anything but. The next great social experiment hasn’t entered the mainstream yet, though, and this leaves most of us with no other plan but to just keep on banging the Capitalism button because it’s the only proven method we have. Absolute poverty, starvation, chronic disease and many other negatives have been reduced far more by the rising economic tide than any ideology. Capitalism has provided all these despite it being deeply unfair and unjust for everyone involved in the process.

      I am hopeful that the rise of the internet and our new way of communicating in a truly global manner will produce something to change our course towards another utopic ideal. However, I have no idea what that might look like, if I did I’d be telling everyone about it.

      • Ketil says:

        Capitalism has provided all these despite it being deeply unfair and unjust for everyone involved in the process.

        I wonder at this. Aside from my puzzlement that the system is unfair and unjust for everyone – is the injustice simply that others are richer than you? I know the socialist adage about the “working class” being exploited, but I’m pretty sure wages constitute a vastly larger portion of revenues of corporations than profits (i.e. capital returns to owners). Quite a lot of people are able to move from working class wage earners to bourgeois capitalists (a.k.a. retired) over their lifetime, further diluting class distinctions and definitions.

        I’m happy to concede social democratic ideals like progressive taxation, unemployment benefits, and universal health care, but I consider these charity towards the less fortunate or maximizing utility rather than justice. You don’t deserve to get something for nothing, and you don’t get to decide that fairness dictates that your chosen career as a weed-smoking unpublished writer should pay as much as my chosen career as a computer consultant.

        • fibio says:

          You don’t deserve to get something for nothing, and you don’t get to decide that fairness dictates that your chosen career as a weed-smoking unpublished writer should pay as much as my chosen career as a computer consultant.


          Equality of Opportunity != Equality of Outcome

          Do I really need to say this explicitly? I feel like this rejoinder comes up any time anyone mentions something vaguely like social care and I’m unsure anyone has ever advocated for it. Of course these two careers shouldn’t be rewarded the same. The fact that becoming a computer programmer costs significantly more than becoming a drug addled layabout is the problem, not that one pays better than the other.

          • Nick says:

            The fact that becoming a computer programmer costs significantly more than becoming a drug addled layabout is the problem, not that one pays better than the other.

            At my university, computer science majors and weed-smoking English majors were paying the same. It seems to me that if student loan availability or interest rates had any relation whatsoever to expected income this wouldn’t be the case.

        • silver_swift says:

          Is the injustice simply that others are richer than you?

          I think that’s part of it for a lot of people, but if you want to phrase it a little more charitably it’s more about society being really bad about distributing wealth in a way that does anything remotely resembling maximizing utility.

          Utility increases very non-linear with wealth (getting €1000,- gives you more utility when it’s half your monthly income than when it’s 1% of your monthly income) so all else being equal you want the amount of money to be distributed equally between everyone on the planet.

          Yes, some amount of wealth inequality encourages people to become computer consultants instead of writers when we have a shortage of the former and a surplus of the latter, thereby increasing the total amount of wealth, but there is a point where the amount of wealth inequality is optimally chosen to increase global utility and (at least from what I can tell) we are pretty far past that point.

          You don’t get to decide that fairness dictates that your chosen career as a weed-smoking unpublished writer should pay as much as my chosen career as a computer consultant.

          Isn’t deciding what fairness dictates the whole point of this discussion?

          • Ketil says:

            I think that’s part of it for a lot of people, but if you want to phrase it a little more charitably it’s more about society being really bad about distributing wealth in a way that does anything remotely resembling maximizing utility.

            I did. 🙂 I think maximizing utility is different from “fairness”, though. Starving people on a life raft can maximize utility by eating the weakest member, but it isn’t necessarily fair.

          • It seems to me that there are at least four different criteria that people find appealing:

            1. Maximize total, or perhaps average, utility.
            2. Fairness, defined as roughly equal outcomes.
            3. Fairness, defined by desert. It’s fair that the person who chose to work hard gets more than the otherwise similar person who chose to spend as much time as possible on the beach, that the kind person gets more than the cruel person. It is not fair that someone is poor because he had the bad luck to be born with serious medical problems or to train for a job that vanished shortly after he started working.
            4. Fairness defined in Nozick’s sense of entitlement. It is fair that, if you and I agreed to bet a dollar on the fall of a coin, the winner gets the dollar, even though he is no more deserving than the loser. Less obviously, but along similar lines, it is fair that the person who produces lots of value gets lots of value, even though the amount of value he produces may depend on lots of things irrelevant to desert, such as the luck of the genetic lottery, being born in a society that values his particular skills, and the like.

            3 turns into 2 if you take the position that everything affecting desert is something you don’t deserve, that you are kind or cruel, hard working or lazy, due to genetic or environmental factors beyond your control.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Excellent! I am saving this comment as a quick short description of economic fairness. I am thinking it should even be made a top level comment to find out which option people think is the best use of the word “fair,” except that I think most people would use a different version for different circumstances, so I’m not sure that we’d get useful responses.

        • qwints says:

          I’m pretty sure wages constitute a vastly larger portion of revenues of corporations than profits

          Wages are roughly 10x compared to corporate profits. this chart to this one.
          . But that’s a not a good refutation to the claim of exploitation for two reasons. First, traditional marxists believe that all profit is exploitation (i.e. that labor is entitled to all it creates). So much like an absolute anti-tax libertarian who thinks taxation is theft, the exact amount of surplus value exploited isn’t that relevant to the argument. Second, most people don’t own stock, and a vast majority of people have significantly more lifetime income attributable to wages than form investment income.

          There’s an interesting question relating to the rise of passive investing about how to categorize a world with the same basic mode of production but with all shares held by the state or worker pensions. Do CalPERS investments count as collective ownership of the means of production?

          • Aapje says:


            Why should we put stock in the opinion of extremists (communist, libertarian or otherwise) who care about ideological purity of the system, complaining about even minor profits, taxes or such, where that seems to derive from a belief that these impurities prevent a utopia, which they cannot prove and which seems very unlikely.

            Besides, all that’s needed to dismantle the claim that profit is (entirely) exploitation is the observation that loaning out money has risks and that people often pay money to insure themselves against risk. In fact, the real difference between investing and loans with interest is that in the former case, labor insures more strongly against failure of the company by sharing those risks with investors.

        • Lambert says:

          Isn’t the labor vs capital model a bit… Victorian?
          Wouldn’t it lead you to argue that CEOs are being exploited by the shareholders?
          Bankers are workers and bonuses are a part of their wages to which they are entitled?

          If you asked me what drives wealth inequality (of opportunity) in the 21st century, it’d be education (in the broad sense). Not just their parents moving to somewhere with a good school or getting them into a good university, but all the social and cultural things that put them in their class. Like how to write a CV or tie a tie or talk to police. What values they are supposed to hold. All the things that communicate: I am $CLASS and you should treat me as such.
          Left-wing ire today seems drawn far more strongly to the salariat than the bourgeoisie.

      • Aapje says:


        Capitalism has provided all these despite it being deeply unfair and unjust for everyone involved in the process.

        I think that you are making a major and very common mistake by conflating fairness with justness (assuming that fairness means “treating people equally without favoritism or discrimination.”).

        (Theoretical) text book capitalism is extremely fair, as it has no favoritism, rewarding people for what they sell/provide, regardless of who they are. The injustices we actually see comes from several sources:
        – Natural inequality & luck differences between people which impacts they ability to produce, where most people want to discriminate in favor of those with lesser natural ability or less luck, but not in favor of those who are lazy (usually regardless of whether that laziness is actually a lack of natural talent).
        – Discrimination, first and foremost in favor of family & partners.
        – Various facts that make theoretical text book capitalism impossible

        Also, I would argue that capitalism increases inequality by allowing people to use their abilities more effectively, so the differences in ability then produce greater differences in outcomes.

        So then the first question with regard to unjustness is whether one considers it just or unjust if people get to maximally use their talents (which tends to benefit others). If the former, the unjustness is not so much due to capitalism, but rather, not erased by it, which is a significantly different situation. Also, this definition of justice means that equality of outcome is impossible. If one defines justice as equality of outcome, the common criticism of a certain kind of socialism applies: that it can only maximize this kind of equality by treating people according to the lowest common denominator, which means that lots of talent is left unused and society is thus poor.

        In the model where capitalism is the problem, merely removing it creates justice. However, in actuality, we see that favoritism to family and partners happens regardless of the economic model. Without capitalism, people will still be born with different genes and have different luck. None of that is erased if you get rid of capitalism.

        So you can then add things to capitalism that produces (the kind of) fairness that it doesn’t produce naturally or you can try another economic model. However, any model needs to deal with human nature, as well as various issues that no economic model can simply erase.

        PS. I also think that a common mistake by critics of capitalism is to ignore the costs of capitalizing on your talents. Equalizing the benefits without equalizing costs does not actually equalize outcomes and logically makes the talented wary of capitalizing on their talents, if it makes them worse off. Yet…if we reward people for capitalizing on their talents, this not only results in different benefits to that person specifically, but also inequality of opportunity, because people won’t just consume these benefits, but will use it to increase their opportunities and of those they love. So realistically, you have to accept a certain level of inequality of opportunity and outcomes.

      • The original version of the Heart/Head line apparently comes from 19th century France, with “Republican” rather than “Socialist.”

  21. theodidactus says:

    In a parallel universe, COVID-19 wasn’t so bad. The disease begins in December 2019, from a shady seafood dealership in central Ohio.

    The disease is exactly as contagious as our COVID-19, and has a similar latency period…after which sufferers have a mild head cold, and nothing else.

    however, the disease IS instantly lethal to all domesticated cats and dogs. When exposed to humans that can transmit the virus, the animals sicken and die in days. Nothing can be done.

    In this other universe, how much did we change up our routines? how much did it wreck the economy?

    • Kaitian says:

      I’ll just read this as “cats or dogs”, because a disease that infects humans, cats, dogs, and no other animals, and is the same for cats and dogs but not humans, would be a scientific marvel.

      I expect there would be a bunch of measures to protect cats and dogs (probably mostly organized by private orgs). But nothing like what is happening with the real covid.

      If the disease can also be passed on by the animals (to other animals and humans), you can look at the response to BSE and the ongoing African swine fever epidemic for an idea of what would happen: mass killings of infected animals, strong hygiene rules about susceptible animals, and the disease becomes notifiable in humans.

    • Robin says:

      People would have goats and otters as pets?

      • keaswaran says:

        As cute as they are, they tend not to have the same sort of household compatibility as cats and dogs.

        • Lambert says:

          Studies have shown that, were they house-trainable, certain species of small deer would be a good animal to try to domesticate.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Silver lining is that it would burn through the human population pretty fast. Not sure if it would become endemic or not tho… If not, there’s a chance to isolate some pets temporarily, possibly in sanctuaries. But it wouldn’t be pretty.

    • Nick says:

      This seems unfair. One of the advantages in that universe is that we don’t have to do human testing to develop a vaccine for cats and dogs. So we could have saved a good number of them, even if vaccination had to be paid for out of pocket.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      This is the backstory to the original Planet of the Apes.

      So the answer is obvious: once all our pets die, we create a race of intelligent apes and harshly enslave them.

      Sorry. You can’t argue with logic.

    • Aftagley says:

      The disease begins in December 2019, from a shady seafood dealership in central Ohio.

      It dies two weeks later, because no one goes to or from Ohio.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Not true at all, the Cleveland Browns have one of the largest national fanbases in the country from all the former Cleveland natives fleeing the city.

      • Deiseach says:

        Hm, looking at a map Ohio is landlocked (except for the bordering lake which I am assuming is freshwater), so where is the centre of the state getting seafood? No wonder it’s dodgy! (Doubly so if it’s importing seafood because anything that long on ice will not be good when it gets there).

        • Aftagley says:

          Doubly so if it’s importing seafood because anything that long on ice will not be good when it gets there

          Fun fact – unless you’re buying your seafood directly from either the fisherman at the dock or a local fishmonger who’s buying it from the fisherman at the dock, you’re likely eating fish that was caught at least a few weeks ago, if not a more than a month.

          Seafood, if it’s frozen immediately after it’s captured, will stay fresh for around 5 months or so. Yeah, it won’t be sushi grade (fancy sushi places will normally have their fish packed on dry ice and flown in, with normally only a week or so passing between time of catch and consumption).

          In short, the whole “don’t eat seafood if you’re not near a coast” thing isn’t real. Everyone’s seafood is mass harvested, mass frozen and shipped around the world.

          • Nick says:

            Also, fish from Lake Erie are fine, dammit. I grew up just a few miles from the lake, and our parish fish fries were always Lake Erie perch. It’s no delicacy, but it’s still delicious.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            In short, the whole “don’t eat seafood if you’re not near a coast” thing isn’t real.

            It is real, though. I live close enough to the coast that the seafood market I go to has their own boats.

            If I were to go to the supermarket, though, all bets are off.

          • SamChevre says:

            On the other hand, when I lived in Tennessee a friend who had grown up in Virginia frequently commented “Tennessee is a place where they think catfish is a seafood.”

            I like catfish, but he had a point.

          • theodidactus says:

            My hometown of Omaha, Nebraska has a *top* rate sushi joint. You can get sushi-grade fish in a lot of midwestern cities: they export fresh beef by plane and import fresh fish.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Speaking of my local fish market, so every Christmas Eve we do the Feast of the Seven Fishes with friends. Rotating host basis, everybody cooks different stuff, etc. The main course is always a whole baked red snapper.

            My friend who was doing the snapper this year had placed an order at the fish market for a whole snapper, 7-9 pounds, to pick up on Christmas Eve morning around 9am. At 5am, my friend’s phone rang, and she woke up, wondering if somebody had died. It was the fish market boat captain, calling to tell her not to show up at 9. They had looked at the inventory and only had a snapper that was barely 7 pounds, and they didn’t think that was good enough, so at 3am they took a boat out and caught her a fresh 8lb red snapper, and they’re on the way back to the market with it, but probably won’t be there until 10.

            That is some service, man. And that fish was delicious. Also now I really want fish for dinner…

          • Nornagest says:

            I know the supply chain should make it irrelevant, but not eating seafood more than fifty miles from the coast (or at least a substantial deepwater port, like the one in Portland, Oregon) seems like a pretty good heuristic anyway. Probably it’s got as much to do with culture as it does with the actual fish.

          • Deiseach says:

            In short, the whole “don’t eat seafood if you’re not near a coast” thing isn’t real. Everyone’s seafood is mass harvested, mass frozen and shipped around the world.

            Ah well, I’m spoiled from living on the coast and having at least three fishing ports in the locality so the fish is caught and landed fresh as can be, as well as having grown up where, as a child, I was accustomed to seeing one of the last real old fish joulters (fishwives) standing on the street corner every Friday with her wooden boxes from the trawler, selling her wares. Of course, there wasn’t any such thing as ice in the boxes with those fish, so as the day went on…. better to buy first thing in the morning! 😀

            Also, fish from Lake Erie are fine, dammit.

            Oh, I have no objections to freshwater fish. But I do think that a seafood stall in the middle of a land-locked state would indeed tend to be shady (“never mind the tentacles and the extra eyes and the ominous gurgling chanting you hear from the back, these are the finest of the Deep Ones – I mean, deepwater fish. Yes.”)

          • Nick says:


            Oh, I have no objections to freshwater fish. But I do think that a seafood stall in the middle of a land-locked state would indeed tend to be shady (“never mind the tentacles and the extra eyes and the ominous gurgling chanting you hear from the back, these are the finest of the Deep Ones – I mean, deepwater fish. Yes.”)

            Fair point about seafood. But that reference to the end of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is uncalled for. 🙁

          • Deiseach says:

            But that reference to the end of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is uncalled for

            Ah now, we were told it was a shady dealership that promulgated Covid-19 amongst domestic pets arising from the “seafood” it sold. If you’re gonna be importing your freshly frozen seafood from New England, it behooves you to adopt track and trace as part of your quality control 🙂

            If I can have a packet of crisps that tell me the spuds from which they were made were grown in a field in Roganstown, then Ohio should be able to tell if the fish and lobsters exported by truck from the Innsmouth fish-packing houses are up to the mark, particularly if they investigate the quality of the “fish begun to swarm into the harbour fit to kill, an’ heaven knows what sized cargoes we begun to ship aout to Newb’ryport, Arkham, an’ Boston” and are those markets satisifed with the products? 😀

  22. Lambert says:

    In the UK, OTOH, there is a Coronavirus Act 2020.
    But given the fusion of powers and 2019’s landslide majority, the legislature mostly does whatever the cabinet wants it to.

  23. theredsheep says:

    Today in Why is there a Wiki page for that? I present:

    Note that this list includes 144 entries, each with 150 or more f-bombs in it, with year of release and two kinds of references, plus total number of fucks given, length of feature, and the per-minute rate–the fuckquency, if you will. A staggering amount of work went into this page. There is also a second chart at the bottom tracking when the record for most fucks per movie was set and broken since 1970. Finally, the talk page has a number of quibbles over little details, including one guy fretting that the movies are ranked by total and not frequency and therefore the article’s title is misleading. The article was at some point nominated for featured list status, and has survived ten separate attempts to have it deleted.

    Wikipedia, ladies and gentlemen.

    • Randy M says:

      Reminds me of the film Knocked Up, where the protagonist and his friends had the dream of setting up a website to catalog the precise moment of nudity in commercial films.
      Seems rather quite at this point, honestly.

      • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

        I am positive that this is already a thing and has been since before Knocked Up came out.

        I also seem to recall that one of the UK tabloid newspapers used to do this for their weekly TV listings.

        • theredsheep says:

          IIRC in the film itself they discover the real-life website they’re accidentally ripping off.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Mr Skin.

          I think. It’s too early in the morning for me to be looking at that.

          As a teenager I would have paid money for access to that database.

    • johan_larson says:

      Some people just have odd interests, and just can’t say no to indulging in them, even if doing so makes them look foolish.

      I once invented a drinking game for the Game of Thrones TV show: have a drink every time you see a man die or a woman naked. I started writing it up, intending to publish it on the web somewhere. But as I catalogued the number of drinks per episode, I started running into various problems with definitions. Did a woman have to be completely nude to count? And if not, how undressed was undressed enough? Did a man have to die literally on screen, or was just off screen good enough? And on and on.

      At that point, I had a sudden moment of clarity. Did I want to be the guy who stepped frame by frame through fantasy sex scenes counting prostitutes and looking for butt-cracks or pubic hair, so they would officially count as nude? No. No, I didn’t. So I dropped the whole project.

      I guess the worthies who compiled this page about fucks in movies never had a similar moment.

      • AG says:

        There’s a lot less ambiguity with deciding whether or not someone has dropped an f-bomb, compared to deciding if someone is nude in frame.

      • theredsheep says:

        Where offscreen deaths are concerned, I haven’t seen the TV show, but in the books, having somebody’s death reported but not directly shown was an absolute, ironclad guarantee that they were still alive. No exceptions.

    • Winja says:

      One of the things I love about Wikipedia are meticulously curated lists of things related to super niche or esoteric topics.

      This link is great, thanks.

  24. No One In Particular says:

    Anyone see 60 Minutes last night? They had a historian named Frank Snowden on the program, and I was wondering whether it’s just me that thinks he looks like David Friedman.

  25. teageegeepea says:

    I briefly thought to myself “What would I ask Bryan Caplan?” before remembering that I’d already notified him about reviews of “The Case Against Education” from Greg Cochran, Spotted Toad, and Education Realist. Caplan can respond to those whenever he feels like it, which turned out to be years from hearing about a critique in the case of Scott Alexander on mental illness.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      That Education Realist response seems like begging the question. “Cutting school funding will hurt already-struggling black people!” Well it will if you assume school helps anyone, but if you’re assuming that then you’ve already disagreed with the meat of Caplan’s thesis and it doesn’t matter if cutting education would have disparate impacts because the whole endeavour is mistaken. That disagreement deserves more attention, rather than four thousand words on how the author is the only one brave enough to darkly hint about race and IQ.

  26. edmundgennings says:

    For those in American timezones or possibly British night owls, If you have a flexible schedule and want to play twice a week, I will be DMing a 5e dungeon crawling game using discord and Roll 20 as virtual table top. For the player’s perspective, you do not need any experience specifically with roll 20
    In the application please mention that you saw this on SSC.

  27. johan_larson says:

    Welcome to 2030. In the past week you have ingested one kilogram of human flesh. How did it come to this?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      It was just 20 hot dogs, dude.

    • edmundgennings says:

      I am a priest at a parish that distributes the chalice to the laity at daily mass. Daily mass attendance has been low but the amount of wine to be consecrated is determined by the server’s habit so I have had to consume the remaining 100 grams of blood and body at the end of mass.

    • Auric Ulvin says:

      I’m in the Shia LaBeouf Actual Cannibal full-dive VR roleplay server and have eaten many many kilograms of human flesh.

      We already have games like Dead by Daylight where you run around trying not to be put on a meathook by a serial killer (also a player). If we do get the platonic ideal of VR, I expect we’ll very quickly end up with similar sorts of games, almost indistinguishable from reality.

    • Beans says:

      Removal of human flesh for the purposes of weight loss is a safe and easy procedure that can be accomplished by any modern blender, and is also the cheapest way to get some animal fat and protein, given recent constraints on traditional meat supplies.

    • Leafhopper says:

      It’s been a slow hunting week – many Eloi have died of radiation poisoning, and most of those who remain are heading south. On top of that, other members of my tribe want their share. One kilogram was, unfortunately, all I could secure.

    • Lambert says:

      They find out that placenta is really good for you?

      Bonus stackexchange thread

    • broblawsky says:

      My lycanthropy is not responding well to my new meds. They’re good for my anxiety, though.

      • AG says:

        There are versions of lycanthropy in fiction where the werewolf doesn’t transform, per se, but a wolf tears itself out of the human body and then consumes the remains. Shame they never showed the reverse, with the human chowing down on their wolf corpse. This also seems like a great grift setup, selling the pelts.

        • broblawsky says:

          Where did you find that? That’s an interesting concept.

          • AG says:

            I saw it in Netflix’s Hemlock Grove, which is not a very good show at all, I kind of regret watching it. Can’t speak for the book which the show is based on, though.

    • Tarpitz says:

      My weird friend’s obsession with the question of whether attractive people taste better has escaped the realm of the hypothetical and he’s tricked a group of us into performing an unwitting blind taste test under the guise of a dinner party.

      Also, I am a greedy bastard.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        My weird friend’s obsession with the question of whether attractive people taste better

        Wait, this is a thing in your life?

        • Tarpitz says:

          Honestly, it’s more a comment he made once that he’d obviously been thinking about for a while and we’ve never let him live it down.

          • Nick says:

            In fairness, this sounds like the kind of question naturally raised by a zombie movie (“Wow, the shambling hordes sure are interested in our more attractive protagonists”).

          • AG says:

            I mean, it’s a fair concept, once lab grown meat is viable. Get DNA samples from various celebrities, make burgers from the results, profit.

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) New miracle diet: lose weight by autophagy! Cut off pounds of unsightly flesh then consume them – kill two birds with one stone by losing weight and avoiding hunger pangs!

      (2) Surgical advances mean the Shylock forfeit is now feasible – cut off a pound of flesh without shedding blood. Can I help it if I take advantage of law suits to sate my grudges? “The law allows it, and the court awards it.” 🙂

    • gdanning says:

      In my personal case? Given how old I will be in 2030, I assume I will have been advised by my cardiologist to cut back.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Lab-grown meat went from proof-of-concept to economically viable with surprising speed, and once they had the ability to make meat in a tube they weren’t going to stop at cows and chickens. They found some mosquitos in amber, next year they’re rolling out Raptor Steaks.

    • cassander says:

      It was on on the menu, how could I not order it? I’d spend the rest of my life wondering…

    • keaswaran says:

      An eccentric billionaire offered me a million dollars to eat the contents of the vacuum cleaner. With all the pandemic-related cleaning, I figured the only thing in there was the flakes of skin shed by me and my partner, and everything had been sanitized enough for weeks to be safe.

  28. proyas says:

    In the distant future, the Weyland-Yutani company hires you to head up a secret project to capture a xenomorph for study and evaluation as a bioweapon. Past attempts have failed, and you are given detailed files on what went wrong.

    With the technology shown in Aliens and Alien 3, how would you go about capturing, storing, and experimenting on a xenomorph without significant risk to your team of scientists and mercenary troops?

    • Dragor says:

      Are we inside an Aliens movie when we are doing this? Because if so, I would try to leg it to somewhere as far away as possible so as to avoid being essential narrative collateral damage. Seems unfair to assume I would be so genre savvy though.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Land unmanned cage on the surface. Wait for someone to get in. Launch back into space. Since they are cold-blooded you can freeze them.

      You trail the cage behind you in space on a 50-meter steel cable. Have explosive bolts that can sever the cable, and make sure they can be manually activated.

    • johan_larson says:

      Don’t start with an adult. They’re too dangerous. Just kill the workers and the queen. Instead, start with eggs. And cross the facehuggers with some sort of fairly small, manageable test animals, like beagle-sized dogs.

      Do the research in an isolated location, like an uninhabited moon or a space station where no other work is done.

      Have the research facilities designed by people who build zoos and maximum-security prisons, to make it as difficult as possible for the aliens to escape.

      Have all direct contact with the aliens be done by synthetics; as far as we know the aliens can’t infest them. (investigate this possibility early in the program.)

      Have a secondary site that monitors the main site, staffed by humans, including scientists and soldiers, who can intervene if things go wrong. The secondary site should probably be in orbit or in a second space station.

      Keep minimal food at the primary station, and keep careful track of its use. Investigate any discrepancies with priority. Incinerate all biological waste.

      Be prepared to blow both sites to kingdom come if necessary.

      Compensate your staff very well, including generous death benefits. Vet them carefully, to avoid spies and saboteurs. Monitor their activities outside the job too, to catch turncoats.

      • proyas says:

        I think there should also be a third site to monitor the first two sites. The third one would be automated, camouflaged/cloaked, and only known to a few high-ranking people at Weyland Yutani. The first two sites would continuously feed detailed data to #3, including internal and external audiovisual surveillance camera footage. If the first two sites were struck by some kind of major problem, site 3 would detect it immediately and report the situation to the company’s leadership.

        Also, the project should go to pains to protect itself from being attacked by mercenaries or rival companies. Unknown spacecraft (including any that are sending out distress beacons) that approach the area should be summarily destroyed. No communication–just start shooting.

        Also, sites 1 and 2 should be designed to be very well-lit and with every room and hallway covered by surveillance cameras and motion sensors. This would even be the case for utility areas and storage rooms. All ventilation ducts should be too small for anything bigger than a cat to crawl through. There should not be any wall panels, drop-down ceilings, or raised floors. Neither of the sites should use colored or flashing lights for emergency backup light systems or alert systems. Every room should be painted white and should be suffused with bright, full-spectrum light at all times.

    • Erusian says:

      If it’s a horror movie and I’m genre savvy, I’d do it in a needlessly cruel way that leads to the xenomorph picking off the group horror movie style until there’s a sole surviving female duking it out in an arena where they’re being recorded for “evaluation”. I’ll also make sure the boss has to be on site to inspect (so he dies when things dramatically goes wrong) and that my getting away scott free is poignant social commentary on how evil corporations are. Also, I’ll make enough snarky remarks to CEO McEvilFace and look cool enough that there’s a good chance I turn good in the sequel.

      • fibio says:

        While endeavoring to be in the sequel is good for your short term prospects I’m not so sure it works out great long term. If anything you’re more likely to die gruesomely in the later installments as they have a bigger SFX budget.

    • Simulated Knave says:

      I mean, if I read the files, it becomes readily apparent that these things make a godawful bioweapon. Their blood damages stuff; they’re sneaky and kill things way, way too well; and they’re dangerously smart. Having them kill my enemies might make my enemies MORE dangerous.

      Releasing individual xenomorphs to attack people might be more viable. Maybe. Even then…imagine trying to root them out of an urban environment.

      If we still want to study them, doing so remotely seems a lot safer. Remote-controlled drones that we drop on the surface and leave there could do a lot, and it seems a lot less likely to lead to a breakout.

      The sensible way to capture them is always to grab eggs, then grow a xenomorph. Doesn’t need to be a human, so pick a dumb and slow-moving test subject and fill it full of facehugger.

      • matkoniecz says:

        I mean, if I read the files, it becomes readily apparent that these things make a godawful bioweapon.

        How can you even end in situation where you are able to control and deliver facehugger and it is not replaceable by something both cheaper and more efective and more controllable?

      • Dragor says:

        Are all Aliens able to reproduce? If so, can they be gelded?

        • FLWAB says:

          “Yeah a bull Xeno is mighty frisky, but these here steers are sweet as kittens, jus’ watch your fingers around that second mouth, I tell ya ‘hwat.”

      • Ketil says:

        I’m told they are easy to raise, imprinting means the chicks get attached to the first person they see after hatching.

    • matkoniecz says:

      evaluation as a bioweapon

      Based on gathered files it is clear that it is very poor fit as a weapon. Intelligent weapon that hates you is a poor idea.

      Plain guns/artillery/nukes/whatever are better for nearly all goals, including terror attacks.

      I cannot imagine any case where you would want to use it as a weapon.

      • Dragor says:

        I mean, if you want to wipe out a planet and don’t want to destroy it kinetically for some reason, you could sneak an egg onto an enemy planet? It could make a pretty good terror attack.

        • matkoniecz says:

          You still have enemy planet, now with facehuggers. I am not sure is it an improvement for typical cases.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            They can’t reproduce without hosts, so once they wipe out the native population and then die off through attrition, you send in synthoids to clear the eggs.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It’s simple, once the aliens wipe out the enemy, just release a bunch of Chinese needle snakes to eat the aliens.

        • Kuiperdolin says:

          Sneak in a hundred fake eggs and maybe-maybe-not a live one in a hundred and one different locations, watch as they scramble to deal with all the reports.
          Maybe take advantage of the confusion for a conventional attack.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Based on gathered files it is clear that it is very poor fit as a weapon. Intelligent weapon that hates you is a poor idea.

        Plain guns/artillery/nukes/whatever are better for nearly all goals, including terror attacks.

        In the movie Aliens vs Predator, it’s revealed that Predators were the Ancient Aliens who taught humans how to build Pyramids and the Xenomorphs were only “used as weapons” against humans in that Predators infected sacrificial victims with them because they wanted to hunt the coolest prey ever despite that quasi-waspian reproductive cycle.
        (Ancient Aliens have gotten so hackneyed that a different Alien movie, Prometheus, added that our creators were a second species of Ancient Aliens who had nothing to do with the Pyramids.)

      • Leafhopper says:

        It’s a great psychological warfare tool. Imagine wondering whether your enemies have dropped a Facehugger somewhere on your planet.

        Like the hydrogen bomb, though, it’s better threatened than used.

    • Leafhopper says:

      Send a non-anthropomorphic drone to collect eggs from some site like the spaceship on LV-426. Take these eggs to an uninhabitable (i.e. you need spacesuits) moon outside the jurisdiction of any Earth government. Build one facility with a nuclear failsafe for each egg. Start by infecting small animals; only progress to humans if this doesn’t go to shit. Never allow more than one alien in a facility at the same time; use the nuke before this happens. In general, don’t juggle as many idiot balls as the alien’s adversaries did in the movies, and don’t sweat it too much. Aliens shows that these things are actually pretty easy to kill.

      Assuming Resurrection, Prometheus and Covenant are canon, no synthetics, as their behaviour and loyalty are unpredictable.

      EDIT: Oh, and one spaceship for each egg, for transport. Pain in the ass but it’s best to be safe.

    • Nornagest says:

      Hire mercenaries that’re competently led and haven’t recently escaped from a Vietnam movie. Kill all the adults. Freeze a few eggs. Bring them back to Earth labeled as interesting but basically routine geological samples from a comet core. We know from Alien 3 that they can infect nonhuman mammals, so you can breed them in sheep or something.

      Keep the sheep in a fortified, acid-proof paddock located in Earth orbit, or, failing that, underground, with a big bomb ready to go off if a Xenosheep breaks loose and starts killing everyone.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I love the new Spyro game.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Hire mercenaries that’re competently led and haven’t recently escaped from a Vietnam movie. Kill all the adults. Freeze a few eggs.

        Child mercenaries and oocyte cryopreservation from dead women? That took a dark turn.

  29. YouTuber esfelectra continues his Objectivist analysis of Star Wars.

    [Star Wars] is one of the most significant artistic accomplishments of the human race…and…I hate it.

  30. salvorhardin says:

    So the key question is: of vaccines that eventually fail, how many produce results this good at this stage of trials? I would have hoped that Derek Lowe’s commentary on the trials would give this– you’d think he’d know that number if anyone does– but it doesn’t appear to:

  31. Aftagley says:

    Lurrus of the Dream Den has officially been banned in Vintage.

    For those who don’t follow Magic the Gathering that closely, Vintage is a format in Magic where basically all cards are allowed. It is seen as the highest power level of play in magic. For reference, the last Vintage banning was in 2007* and that card, Shahrazad, is largely seen as being one of the worst-designed magic cards in history.**

    As far as I know, there has never been a banning from Vintage based on a card’s power level. The whole point of Vintage is abusing busted card interactions. I was previously on the fence, but I think this has pushed me into the camp of thinking that companions were a bad idea.

    *Not counting cards that were designed for varient versions of Magic and were banned as soon as they were designed.

    **This card has you basically stop your current game of magic and play a separate sub-game of magic. The loser of that game will then lose half their life when you go back to the first level of this game. Yes, this could nest, no it wasn’t fun.

    • hnau says:

      To be fair, Vintage typically restricts a card or two per year. Lurrus only got banned because restricting it would do literally nothing.

      (For those who don’t follow it closely: “banned” means you can’t use the card at all, “restricted” means the maximum you can have in a deck is 1 rather than the default of 4. Lurrus has the “Companion” mechanic which lets you cast a single copy from outside the game every game under certain conditions, which is the main reason why it’s so powerful.)

    • Dack says:

      I could see more companions getting banned in vintage.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Zirda’s the only contender I can see, and while I’m not too familiar with Vintage my impression is they have better things to do than Grim/Basalt Monolith stuff if it’s not a near free roll. Shops (the natural home) would lose their Sphere of Resistance effects at minimum.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Lutri is a very strong possibility. Having to play singleton is a much smaller cost when all your best cards are singletons anyway, and copying Recall or Cruise is really good.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Even more astounding is this

      If we see signs of long-term health issues resulting from high metagame share of companion decks, we’re willing to take steps up to or including changing how the companion mechanic works.

      Wizards is considering power level errata. That’s how dire the situation is with companion.

      • johan_larson says:

        Is companion working ok in Limited?

        • ManyCookies says:

          Yeah companions are fine in Ikoria limited.

        • ltowel says:

          Strong but not the best thing you can do, while making your drafting really interesting if you get one of them. I haven’t played them, so they could be wildly broken in sealed, but I don’t think they should be balancing for sealed (like even less so then they should balance for Vintage).

          It’s IMO an excellent limited mechanic in this format where the cycling deck is the boogeyman.

          • ManyCookies says:

            Cycling fell off somewhat, thank Christ. There was a scary week where it looked like a table could support two good cycling decks, but it’s heavily drafted enough where people aren’t getting the nonsense 12 land 8 payoffs 2 flare variants nearly as often.

          • ltowel says:


            I’ve said before that it seems like the cycling deck was balanced for pod drafting and the league drafting on MTGO/MTGA makes the deck feel more busted then it is because you lack the natural self-correcting you get in a pod. Good to hear that draft as a format has still managed to correct.

          • Aftagley says:

            The biggest change, imo, was people started realizing that every deck got value out of the 1 cost cyclers. You don’t need payoff to have a deck that lets you churn a bit and reduce your landcount.

            Once you weren’t seeing pick 8 Frostviel Ambushes anymore, the cycling deck got a lot scarier to draft.

      • ManyCookies says:

        I was about to post that. They’ve hard moved away from power level errata even on old ass Alpha cards whose on-card text needed extensive oracle updates anyway*, power level errata on a recently printed mechanic would be totally unprecedented.

        I wonder what they have in mind for that route. They do have some degrees of freedom without altering the on-print text (which iirc is the primary reason they don’t do power level errata) since much of the mechanic isn’t laid out on the cards themselves, but they still couldn’t do stuff like “It starts in your opening hand” without contradicting the print card. I guess “If you companion this, discard a card from your hand” wouldn’t technically contradict the card, just make the companion instructions incomplete.

        *Time Vault’s oracle history is an amusing power level errata journey, at one point enabling an entirely different infinite combo than infinite turns.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          It would probably be -1 starting hand size rather than discard a card. There are a number of decks that might play a companion just for the free discard.

        • Aftagley says:

          Or having it take a deckslot instead of a space in your sideboard.

          ETA – wait, that might actually make the cards more powerful.

        • ltowel says:

          I like a dredge-esque draw replacement effect.

          “Once per game if ~ is your companion, if you would draw a card put ~ into your hand instead” (templating is probably bad)

        • Tarpitz says:

          They could change the mulligan rules to say if you have declared a companion you look at one card fewer or put an extra card on the bottom. That’s probably the cleanest approach.

    • ltowel says:

      I would’ve preferred weirder rules changes that preserve the spirit of vintage – I like the proposal of not allowing restricted cards in side boards, which also nerfs wishboards, but I don’t see a problem with that.

      Companions as a mechanic remains busted – I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lutri getting too strong in Vintage and WOTC basically playing whack-a-commander.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Even Vintage decks have key cards they want multiple copies of (Force of Will/Negation, Paradoxical Outcome, hatebears), I would be surprised if Lutri was worthwhile.

        • ltowel says:

          I don’t play vintage (although it sounds fun and I already have the expensive cards from playing legacy on MTGO), but it seems like a lot of the UB/Grixis control or tendrils decks could cut a few petitions/forces for a free 8th card. If it tips Storm or one of the particular control decks over the fun police (dredge) maybe they just unrestrict some shops stuff though

    • Tarpitz says:

      As far as I know, there has never been a banning from Vintage based on a card’s power level.

      It’s been a while, but it has happened: Channel and I believe one other card (Time Vault?) were banned in Type 1 in the past.

    • Fahundo says:

      This card has you basically stop your current game of magic and play a separate sub-game of magic. The loser of that game will then lose half their life when you go back to the first level of this game. Yes, this could nest, no it wasn’t fun.

      So, how does this physically work? You’d need to leave the cards for the first game where they are for when you go back to that game, but you also have to use your deck to play the second game?

      • Aftagley says:

        Yes. You leave the current state of play as is. You then take what’s left of your deck and use it to play another game of magic. When that games done, you shuffle all those cards back up, and they are now your deck again when you go back to the first game.

        • johan_larson says:

          It strikes me as a clever idea, although it must be a real pain to implement if your game state is complicated and you can’t move to a different table to play out the secondary game. Is it just not fun enough for the trouble it causes?

          • Jake R says:

            It was a nifty gimmick but it got old fast. For physical implementation usually you would either move to a new table or put a play mat or something over the top of the existing board. The biggest issue wasn’t trouble so much as time. It made for some ludicrously long games, especially if they started nesting. Once organized play started it wasn’t really practical to have games that sometimes took 1 hour and sometimes took 5 hours.

            Edited to add: This game is probably the niftiest it’s ever been, and possibly the only time it’s been cast in the last few years.

  32. Aftagley says:

    General Series of Questions: I’m seeing a bunch of news reports that describe people who had already been sick with COVID getting reinfected.

    1. Are these stories likely true?
    2. If these stories are true, does that imply anything about the future efficacy of any vaccines? My gut tells me that any vaccine’s maximum ability to prevent reinfection would be equal to the protection given by a prior infection. If a prior infection doesn’t protect you all that well, how does a vaccine?

    • noyann says:

      1. No.

      When the infection recedes, the virus is no longer present in all areas where you can swab. The longer this goes on, the more testing becomes a matter of luck.
      Imagine a bowl of soup with small noodles. Many noodles present — (practically) every spoonful has noodles in them: your spoon test is clearly noodle-positive. Few noodles in the soup — now and then you have just brine in your spoon: clearly negative. Some spoonfuls later you ladle another noodle — where did that renoodlefection come from?!?

      The early reports of ‘reinfected’ patients were from Asian countries with a somewhat rigid testing culture: daily tests, and after N* negative tests the patient is declared virus-free. Now the next test(s) are positive, what happened with that patient?

      *2? 3?

      Add to that that the swabbing procedure is often not done right. For a proper swab you have to go through the nose to the back of the upper throat, a rather unpleasant procedure, and when going through the mouth you have to do some serious wiping and not just lightly touch on one single spot. I expect that especially in the early stages of the pandemic that was no common knowledge.

      Add another fact, that the virus disappears from the throat when it is still very active in the lung. It multiplies on the upper floor to spread, then moves downstairs. So in later stages, on one day the throat swabs find nothing, on the next day the patient has coughed shortly before the swabbing and the virus is back’

      In all the many worldwide cases so far there may have been a handful of undiscovered immunocompromised patients who got a real re-infection. But I still doubt that they had survived the first time.

      Just for completeness, there is finally an extremely tiny chance that a sample with extremely high viral load has cross-contaminated a virus-free sample during processing.

      Now consider that the (usually sensationalist) media has issued, say, 10^4 articles worldwide, going back to the same few (dozens?) or so of ‘reinfected’ patients out of 4.62 million cases worldwide.

      Conclusion: the probability of a reinfection within the next few months is zero for all real-life purposes.

      • Aftagley says:

        Imagine a bowl of soup with small noodles. Many noodles present — (practically) every spoonful has noodles in them: your spoon test is clearly noodle-positive. Few noodles in the soup — now and then you have just brine in your spoon: clearly negative. Some spoonfuls later you ladle another noodle — where did that renoodlefection come from?!?

        Amazing analogy. Thank you so much.

        ETA: so the proper way to read a story like this isn’t that the sailors in question were sick, recovered and now have come down with the disease again so much as they were sick, never really recovered but managed to pass as healthy on a few checks?

        • noyann says:

          Credits for the analogy: Ch. Drosten. Only, he used a pool, goldfishes, and a bucket. I wanted something that doesn’t actively evade the ‘test’.

          As for the sailors, my best guess is that they show the very long tail of being infectious. But 5 of 13? Is there a hidden factor at work? Random statistical fluctuation? I have not explanation, only the caution that there is very little reliable info, from a sample of 4.6 Megapatients.

      • albatross11 says:

        Also, the tests are looking for viral RNA–it’s quite possible to still have viral RNA around long after you’ve killed off the virus.

  33. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Good, if early.

    For safety, I understand the only way to know if the vaccine is safe after 3 months is to test it and wait 3 months.

    Let’s say we want to give the vaccine 3 months of safety tests.[1] We test it on a large group (100? 1000? dunno.) and find no side effects after 2 months. Does this give us good reason to start giving the vaccine to more people while waiting for that final month to come in? Either to expand the testing pool or target the most at-risk-from-virus-but-unable-to-socially-isolate?

    [1] I don’t know the real number of months.

    • Randy M says:

      You could do accelerated aging by keeping the test subjects at 40 C for about one month instead.
      … I may have been two long in chemistry and too far removed from biology to address the topic.

      • Noah says:

        You can also take advantage of relativistic effects by accelerating the Earth to near light speed and leaving the test population behind.

    • keaswaran says:

      I always hear of the same three cases – a vaccine candidate for the 1976 swine flu that caused Guillain-Barre syndrome, an HIV vaccine candidate that made people more likely to get infected rather than less, and a syncytial respiratory virus vaccine candidate that made kids more likely to die. I hate the anti-vaxx movement because they’ve made it so hard to find legitimate information about this sort of risk.

      Apparently there’s one other similar case – some vaccine candidate for a cat coronavirus made the cats more likely to die.

  34. proyas says:

    Your gut has been genetically engineered to produce cellulase. You pick 500 grams of grass from your backyard (no roots), pulverize it in a blender with some water, and drink the paste. How many calories does your body absorb from this meal? 

    • Lambert says:

      I don’t think cellulase is like lactase, where you can just put a bunch of plasmids in an enteric pill and become tolerant to it.
      The blending probably helps, but there’s a reason cows have such a big digestive system. Cellulase is pretty slow, because it only works on the end of the chains so I doubt you’d get much nutrition out of it. NileRed had to process his toilet paper at 50 °C for 48 hours before enough celulose had been digested that he could make moonshine out of it.

      IIRC, koji secretes cellulase, so fermenting it might work. But at that point, I think you’d basically be eating silage.

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      Grass contains 70-85% water. Of the remaining dry weight, cellulose and hemicellulose total 50-60%. Assuming 100% digestion and absorption in your brave new gut, you get between 500 x 0.3 x 0.6 = 90 and 500 x 0.15 x 0.5 = 38 g of sugars. All sugars are calorically equivalent, so assume 4 food calories per gram, and you get 360 – 152 calories per 500 g of fresh grass.

      But to reiterate what Lambert wrote, digesting cellulose is hard work, so I would not be surprised if actual absorbed energy is much lower than 100% theoretical, say 2/3.

      Are you prepared to have belly size of a cow or a horse?

  35. Beans says:

    Like most men I know, I’ve never had long fingernails. Since these days I’m working from home and nobody cares how I look from the head down, I decided to grown them out. They got to a bit below half a centimetre before I couldn’t stand it anymore and cut most of them off, the primary motivator being that I could barely use a touchscreen.

    -Unsurprisingly, they made typing on a keyboard pretty hard.
    -The edges constantly got caught soft/fibrous surfaces, which is really uncomfortable. If I had bothered to file down the corners this probably would have been mitigated, but I wasn’t that dedicated.
    -On the thumbnail in particular, I notice that the nail grows with a slight curve so that the “point” of the nail is off-center relative to the finger itself. I noticed that in fact, the angle at which it is growing corresponds to the angle at which that finger grips objects. I don’t know if I somehow made this happen by continuing to use my hands, or if that’s how nails naturally grow.
    -Human nails are not that strong. In the distant past, how did people deal with fingernails? They fray quite easily when not maintained and it seems like if you were to be living outside handling sticks and rocks, you’t tear your nails all the time and have bleeding fingertips: they just don’t break cleanly enough for them to naturally erode in the way that prevents them from being actively detrimental. (Though maybe they would, if I lived outside.)

    -Some benefits: Scraping dried gunk from dirty dishes, scratching myself really well, plucking teabags out of hot water with no fingertip damage.

    I’ve kept the left thumbnail because it doesn’t get in the way of much and it has taken little damage. It’s almost a centimetre. We’ll see what happens to it.

    In conclusion, long nails are mostly a pain.

    • Bobobob says:

      This is the kind of detailed analysis that makes SSC such a fascinating repository of knowledge.

    • Kaitian says:

      Traditionally a man would keep one of the little finger nails long, to clean your ears and do snuff with.

      Also most women who wear long fingernails do it by gluing on fake ones. The real ones are too asymmetric and keep breaking off.

      • Derannimer says:

        Some of us just have strong fingernails, though. /flex

      • Beans says:

        Traditionally a man would keep one of the little finger nails long, to clean your ears and do snuff with.

        Seems like the pinky finger nail would be the perfect size for that. My thumb-claw is too big (but I have tried!).

        Also most women who wear long fingernails do it by gluing on fake ones. The real ones are too asymmetric and keep breaking off.

        I’ve always been blissfully unaware of how, exactly, women deal with nails. I guess they’re either fastidiously maintaining real ones or constantly gluing on weird prosthetics? But I’m proud to know that if I were a lady, I could probably grow some pretty decent ones.

      • keaswaran says:

        I had never heard of the single long nail for anything other than cocaine, but apparently in Asia at least it’s been a thing for “cleaning your ears” (which appears to be a euphemism for picking your nose).

        • Kaitian says:

          Cleaning your ear is cleaning your ear (the folds of the outer part, and the entrance of the ear canal). Picking your nose is a bonus function.

        • noyann says:

          Heard of contemporary teenagers who have one pointed longer nail for precise phone-tapping.

      • Robin says:

        Albert Vigoleis Thelen describes this in “Die Insel des zweiten Gesichts”. His Swiss brother-in-law Zwingli, living on Mallorca, uses his long pinky-finger nail to command the workers around.

        Again, Zwingli lifted the pinky finger of his right hand, to give his directions, and now I saw on its last limb the instrument of his power over the goblins of the island: the about one-and-a-half centimetre long nail, shimmed with the black varnish of scruffiness, turned a little bit up. Such an awl-horn, which usually in the night is protected against breaking with a silver scabbard, hinders its wearer from any bodily work, and at the same time it is the thus-ensuing evidence of higher idleness, thus a status symbol which shall not be underestimated.

        The baroque prose is Vigoleis’ (one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read), the sad little translation is mine.

    • Matt M says:

      I was hoping maybe this whole “deadly pandemic” thing might finally be the thing that could get me to stop biting my nails.

      But then it turned out to not be deadly enough to sufficiently scare me into modifying my behavior…

    • FLWAB says:

      -Human nails are not that strong. In the distant past, how did people deal with fingernails? They fray quite easily when not maintained and it seems like if you were to be living outside handling sticks and rocks, you’t tear your nails all the time and have bleeding fingertips: they just don’t break cleanly enough for them to naturally erode in the way that prevents them from being actively detrimental. (Though maybe they would, if I lived outside.)

      I assume that in the past if they didn’t have a knife to trim their nail with they would bite them. Nails bite easily and neatly.

      • Aapje says:

        Not in my experience. It makes me want to keep biting, while clipping created a good edge.

        • FLWAB says:

          Embarresing confession: I hardly ever clip my fingernails because I bite them down long before they get long enough to clip. I do bite them back fairly close to the quick, but that works for me.

          • bullseye says:

            I bite my nails too, but it’s not a nervous habit or anything like that; I deliberately do it instead of clipping because it’s easier than finding the clippers. It makes them a bit rough, but I can “file” them by scraping against my teeth.

    • DinoNerd says:

      In the distant past, how did people deal with fingernails?

      I presume they trimmed their fingernails with their teeth when they got annoying. (Toenails might have been more of a problem.)

      • Nick says:

        (Toenails might have been more of a problem.)

        Not if you’re flexible enough.

      • noyann says:

        Any old stone with a small smooth surface will do as a file. I tried it.

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        I presume they trimmed their fingernails with their teeth when they got annoying. (Toenails might have been more of a problem.)

        Why bother with teeth? A nail can cut a nail. Tearing is only a problem if it happens uncontrolled; if you trim one nail with another, you can start a very controlled “tear” that takes off as much of the nail as you need it to and, as a rule, no more.

        But in my experience if you’re working with your nails regularly, you don’t need to trim them at all; the ends fray a bit every time you use them, and that keeps them at a reasonable level. I almost never am – that’s a lot of dishes – but I assume that in the distant past, people would have been doing so much more often; the kind of work that keeps my nails short is usually the stuff that’s changed least over the centuries.

    • keaswaran says:

      I’ve been wondering about hair as well – why don’t humans work like most dogs, where the hairs naturally fall off as they reach a particular length? Why are most humans like poodles, where the hair keeps growing? Were humans bred for the same kind of hair-topiary as poodles?

      • Beans says:

        This has bothered me too. Did pre-modern humans just have a big mop of hair hanging down to their elbows until they started getting handy and braided it or whatever?

        • albatross11 says:

          How long ago did humans invent braiding and cutting hair? Maybe a *really* long time ago….

          • eyeballfrog says:

            Venus figurines confirm female hair braiding is at least 30,000 years old. I would guess that cutting hair was invented not too long after cutting tools, so 1-2 million years ago.

          • Beans says:

            Could it be that for the entire time that we’ve had perpetual head hair growth we’ve been smart enough to braid it or cut it? I’m not so sure it would be obvious to do that unless you’d already seen other people around you doing it. So there probably was a time when people had a lot of hair but didn’t know what to do with it yet.

            Are there apes that grow long hair, and what do they do with it? Are they dexterous enough to make a shitty braid out of their apehair?

          • bullseye says:

            No other creature grows hair anywhere near as long as ours. I read a theory many years ago that it evolved through sexual selection specifically because the length made hairstyles possible.

          • Randy M says:

            Sunday school flannel graphs attest that Eve had hair at least long enough to cover her chest fully.

          • keaswaran says:

            It seems likely that hair cutting probably arose before hair growing. Just like drinking cow milk arose before the genes to properly digest it as an adult. There’s a plausible story for how either cultural behavior could have arisen without the associated biological adaptation, and then would have selected for that adaptation, but there’s not a very plausible story for how the adaptation would have arisen without the cultural behavior already being in place.

      • noyann says:

        Our hair falls off eventually, too.

      • a real dog says:

        Above a certain length they will fall off! But you usually don’t reach it, unless you’re a woman with a lot of patience for accidentally sitting on your hair.

    • meh says:

      Like most men I know, I’ve never had long fingernails.

      Make fiends with more classical guitarists.

      • Beans says:

        Do I haaave to?

      • sharper13 says:

        Make fiends with more classical guitarists.

        Yeah, if you’ve been making your fiends out of purely heavy metal guitarists, they tend to get a little too crazy and gnaw at your fingernails when summoned.

        So the solution is to mix in more classical artists into the blend to calm your fiends down, sometimes even toss in a hippie church accompanist or two, although those are more difficult to find out on the street or in their normal habitats during the covidpocolypse.

        I think I’ve got a book of fiend recipes around here somewhere…

    • nkurz says:

      > In the distant past, how did people deal with fingernails?

      Apparently in frontier America, some people sharpened them and used them as weapons. I’m reminded of a particularly disturbing passage from Albion’s Seed:

      The border sport of bragging and fighting was also introduced to the American backcountry, where it came to be called “rough and tumble.” Here again it was a savage combat between two or more males (occasionally females), which sometimes left the contestants permanently blinded or maimed. A graphic description of “rough and tumble” came from the Irish traveler Thomas Ashe, who described a fight between a West Virginian and a Kentuckian. A crowd gathered and arranged itself into an impromptu ring. The contestants were asked if they wished to “fight fair” or “rough and tumble.” When they chose “rough and tumble,” a roar of approval rose from the multitude. The two men entered the ring, and a few ordinary blows were exchanged in a tentative manner. Then suddenly the Virginian “contracted his whole form, drew his arms to his face,” and “pitched himself into the bosom of his opponent,” sinking his sharpened fingernails into the Kentuckian’s head. “The Virginian,” we are told, “never lost his hold … fixing his claws in his hair and his thumbs on his eyes, [he] gave them a start from the sockets. The sufferer roared aloud, but uttered no complaint.” Even after the eyes were gouged out, the struggle continued. The Virginian fastened his teeth on the Kentuckian’s nose and bit it in two pieces. Then he tore off the Kentuckian’s ears. At last, the “Kentuckian, deprived of eyes, ears and nose, gave in.” The victor, himself maimed and bleeding, was “chaired round the grounds,” to the cheers of the crowd.

      Thomas Ashe’s original account is on Page 86 of Travels in America (which I have not read, but perhaps I should):

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I keep em SUPER short. You list “good scratching” as a benefit, but I have a MAJOR problem with the scratch-itch cycle, especially on my head. I can and have scratched my head enough to leave it bloody, and it always happens when I go more than, say, 3 days without cutting my finger nails.

    • Dino says:

      Finger picking guitar players (including classical and flamenco) use long fingernails on their right hand to pick the strings. Have to keep the left hand trimmed, so non-symmetric. Other musicians, especially keyboard players, have to keep em all trimmed. Mine are so hard I only trim them after a shower when they’re softer. I know a flamenco guitarist who has weak nails and she has to use glue-ons.

    • I’ve had long (but not very long, about 0.5 cm) cm nails for 40 years, but on one hand only. Which is a bit of a trivia question: why would I do that?

  36. Deiseach says:

    Advantage(?)/Disadvantage(?) of watching all kinds of online videos and foreign-language shows because of all this spare time: I now find myself needing to be able to differentiate written Korean from Thai from Vietnamese at first sight and without a clue as to what language is which (and I thought I had it bad when I could only find a dubbed-into-Hindi version online of a Chinese movie I wanted to watch because there wasn’t any English sub and I figured that about four words of Hindi picked up from watching mythological TV shows online was better, comprehension-wise, than zero words of Mandarin or Cantonese) 🤣

    • GearRatio says:

      One thing that helps is to start with Hangul; you could actually learn their phonetic alphabet in about 30 minutes if you wanted to – it’s very modern and very good. After that, if at first glance it might be Korean but isn’t, it’s Japanese; if it’s all fucked up but doesn’t look like it could be Arabic, it’s Chinese; if it’s all fucked up and looks like it could be Arabic it’s probably Thai.

      Other tips:


      Once you’ve seen Hangul characters, you will notice their words are typically organized by arranging 2-4 characters into individual block; these are syllables. None of the other languages mentioned really do this.


      Almost every Thai character answers to the description of “was trying to draw an elephant with primitive drawings of snake corpses”. If it doesn’t look like this, it’s probably not Thai.

      3. Chinese is arguably the worst written language in the set (Korean being the best designed language on Earth, probably). Because it’s an ancient mess that never got reformed, all Chinese characters look more like drawings of things (boats, etc) than the other languages mentioned.

      • (Korean being the best designed language on Earth, probably)

        There used to be a linguist at Chicago who had a party every year to celebrate the invention of the Korean alphabet.

      • Kaitian says:

        Japanese is unambiguously worse than Chinese, at least as far as the writing -> sound mapping goes. Also Chinese has been reformed numerous times.

        Thai and some other south Asian languages look really impractical to write, because you have to draw this elaborate little squiggle for every character. But I can’t actually read them so I might be off base.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Japanese is unambiguously worse than Chinese, at least as far as the writing -> sound mapping goes.

          How do you figure? At least Japanese has phonetic syllabaries (two of them), with extremely low orthographic distance. Things sounds (almost) exactly like they’re spelled. The kanji is a different story, but all of Chinese is like that.

          • Solra Bizna says:

            How do you figure? At least Japanese has phonetic syllabaries (two of them), with extremely low orthographic distance. Things sounds (almost) exactly like they’re spelled. The kanji is a different story, but all of Chinese is like that.

            If Japanese were written only with Hiragana and Katakana, then it would have the pro of low orthographic distance balanced against the con of having to learn a whopping 94 symbols for literacy. However, it’s also written with Chinese characters (Kanji). When Kaitian says written Japanese is unambiguously worse than written Chinese, what they’re saying is that literacy in Japanese requires learning the 2,136 Jōyō Kanji plus the 94 Hiragana and Katakana symbols, which is (technically) strictly worse than just learning 2,136 Kanji would be. In practice, thanks to things like Furigana, the difference is harder to quantify, but consider the following:

            When you encounter a Chinese character in written Japanese, how should you read it?

            – As a Japanese word that means the same thing?
            – As literally the spoken Chinese word?
            – As a Japanese word that sounds like the spoken Chinese word?
            – As something totally made up? (This happens sometimes in person names, and is not a problem unique to Japanese)

            All of the above occur in Japanese. That already sounds bad enough, but bear in mind that both Japanese and “Chinese” have drifted a lot in pronunciation since certain Kanji entered common use in Japan, and that Japanese sometimes writes the “same” Kanji differently than China or Korea or Vietnam but still considers it the same, and that “Chinese” only usually means Mandarin Chinese, and that homophones exist, and that spoken Japanese is not famous for being able to mimic certain sounds common in other languages…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure, that’s true, but that’s still mainly just learning the weird cases for the kanji, as opposed to Chinese where it’s all weird cases. Plus, as an English speaker, you get the joy of encountering katakana words, which are essentially freebies. “What English word, if spoken with an outrageously racist Japanese accent, would sound like this?”

            I first noticed this with レモン, which is the symbols “re,” “mo,” and “n.” “What english word, spoken with a racist Japanese accent sounds like ‘remon?’ … … No, come on…really? Yeah, yeah it totally is…”

            ETA: Epistemic status: I’m still a newb Japanese student, and have never tried to learn Chinese, so I’m speaking from very limited knowledge/experience.

          • Loriot says:

            I’ve been studying Japanese for the last 4.5 months, and can confirm that the Hiragana are easy to learn. The only real hard part in the writing system is the Kanji.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I first noticed this with レモン, which is the symbols “re,” “mo,” and “n.” “What english word, spoken with a racist Japanese accent sounds like ‘remon?’ … … No, come on…really? Yeah, yeah it totally is…”

            Sometimes they’re Dutch loanwords. My Japanese was shitty in high school and has evaporated since so Ican’t remember any good examples, but I do remember being mystified why some word that didn’t map at all to English was in katakana, and eventually learned they were Dutch.

          • Aapje says:

            Apparently, we gave the Japanese asbestos, typhus and morphine, but also dance, Sundays and biscuits.

        • Kaitian says:

          Arguably there’s a lot of unnecessary nuance in deciding when to use Hiragana vs Katakana. But mostly, when you see a Kanji, you have no idea how to pronounce it correctly unless you’ve learned it before in this context. For most kanji (and even some multi-kanji words) there are a bunch of different possible readings. Even major Japanese politicians have blundered by guessing the wrong reading for some rare usage.

          In Chinese you have to learn more characters (4000+ instead of 2000+), but at least when you see one, you can be 99% sure that it will be pronounced the same as always (for your dialect).

    • Beans says:

      Korean: Circles and angular swooshes.
      Thai: Tiny circles on the ends of swirls/scribbles with little flags on top.
      Khmer: Like a cooler Thai with serifs.
      Hindi: Kinda like Thai but with a big horizontal line on top and less tiny circles.
      Vietnamese: Latin letters, monsyllabic words, draped in tiny extra markings.
      Simplified Chinese: Blocks made of angular lines.
      Traditional Chinese: The same but with more lines in them.
      Japanese: A mix of the former interspersed with curly swirls and a dash of Korean.

  37. Douglas Knight says:

    I hope this doesn’t count as CW, but “bi-weekly” should be hyphenated “biweek-ly” because it means once every biweek, not twice as fast as weekly. Especially, semiannu-ally, because that’s the one that always confuses people.

    • Deiseach says:

      Fortnightly. Meaning “once every two weeks”. I too can’t tell at first if “biweekly” means “twice a week” or “fortnightly”.

      • C_B says:

        I know that this rule exists, but every time I am called upon to put it into practice, I forget if the rule is this or the opposite of this.

      • Deiseach says:

        If I could get it stuck into my head that “bi” is “two”, so “(once every) two weeks” and “semi” is “half” so “twice a week”, that would be helpful!

      • Another Throw says:

        I can never keep it straight, does doing it twice every time make me bisexual or semisexual?

      • iprayiam says:

        The difficult thing is that “semi” can mean “kind of” or “somewhat” in slang, so “semi-annually” automatically translates in my head to “kind of annually” which approximates to once every two more than twice-a, so it’s impossible for me to keep straight

    • Lambert says:

      I don’t see what’s wrong with the term ‘fortnightly’.

    • mitv150 says:

      In English, at least:
      Biweekly means both. Using it to mean twice a week (as in semiweekly) or using it to mean once every other week are both correct. This word is not hyphenated.

      Bimonthly and biannually also mean both (twice a month/year and every other month/year)

      Using semiweekly or semimonthly can resolve the ambiguity in the case of “twice an X” but not in the case of “every other”

      For “annually,” we can disambiguate by using “semiannual” and “biennial.”

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The way to remember this is that “fortnightly” means once a fortnight, not fourteen times a night.

  38. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Here is the one thing of practical value I learned from decades of listening to NPR for fun.

    An actor explained that if you can’t remember a line, relax.

    This speeds up the process of remembering a thing when you stop trying to remember it.

    So, tell me useful advice you found somewhere that you don’t usually find it. Or methods for getting access to memories.

    Sometimes I find that just intending to a thing up on google will bring back the memory, though usually I need to do the search.

  39. hash872 says:

    Is there any type of credit or debit card product where I have to personally approve each transaction for it to go through? Like, I sign up for a gym membership, and as fitness gyms are notoriously shady it later raises the rate, makes it impossible for me to cancel, or bills me after I’ve supposedly canceled. I find the current credit card system frustrating & ripe for bad actors. And I’m not interested in spending a lot of my time doing chargebacks (unless someone knows of a credit card that’s makes chargebacks easy & hassle-free).

    Could I possibly prefill a bank account with some funds, get a debit card linked to that account, and verify transactions that way? Does anyone know of a good solution to shady billing practices?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Some credit card companies have made “virtual card numbers” where you make a card number that is only good for limited use.

      But last I checked all the ones I had access to had shut them off. Possibly because credit cards wanted to get out of the business of being the mechanism for enforcing consumer rights against businesses,.

      • Mycale says:

        I can verify that the Citi Double Cash credit card offers this option. I have that card and used it to set up a virtual card number recently (within the last couple months), although I haven’t used the virtual card yet so I can’t directly confirm that it works as you would expect (I have no reason to expect otherwise though).

        FWIW, it seems like virtual card numbers would be easier on the credit card companies than handling chargebacks. With the virtual card number, any issues would get resolved on the front-end (by the charge being denied), with the money never leaving the credit card company. With chargebacks, the money goes out to the merchant and the credit card company has to deal with the hassle of adjudicating any disputes and pursuing the merchant if they rule in favor of the consumer.

    • Aftagley says:

      Could I possibly prefill a bank account with some funds, get a debit card linked to that account, and verify transactions that way? Does anyone know of a good solution to shady billing practices?

      Cash app does this. Create an account, link it to your bank account can fill it with a pre-set amount. They will then generate a virtual card for you to use, and even send you a “real” version of that virtual card if you want.

    • Ketil says:

      Is there any type of credit or debit card product where I have to personally approve each transaction for it to go through?

      This is how my bank works. Companies can bill me , which means I see their bills when I log into my bank’s web pages (or, their app notifies me, if I have it installed). I can then approve it, and/or change the specifics. The system is common to all the banks, so bills show up in all banks I use, and once paid, are moved to the archive.

      I don’t see any reason to do it any other way.

    • Jake says:

      Not going to vouch for this company at all, but in another forum, someone just mentioned this, and was linked to, where it appears you can do exactly that.

    • a real dog says:

      Some banks in Europe offer prepaid cards, where you assign a limit to them and it is decreased every time the card is charged. Once someone wants to charge you for bullshit subscriptions just stop increasing the limit, or even reduce it to 0 all the time and increase only when buying things.

      Also, premium Revolut offers single-use CC numbers. I guess 10% of the customer base is people who are really serious about not getting charged without reason, and 90% is people running all sorts of fraud on lazy businesses assuming one CC # is a reasonable approximation of one physical person.

  40. Aftagley says:

    Everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about the Foreign Service: What they do, and how to join!

    Currently there are around 8000 Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) representing America’s interests abroad. These men and women are supported by another 5000-ish Foreign Service Specialists (FSSs) who can best be thought of as support staff (IT folks, health, some security and facilities management). While the work of the FSSs is crucial, I’ll be focusing mainly on the FSOs in this post.

    FSOs break down into 5 different flavors: Consular Officers, Economic Officers, Management Officers, Political Officers and Public Diplomacy officers. While there is some overlap of responsibilities, especially the more senior you get, in general if you enter as a certain flavor (they call it “cone”) you can expect that to be what you spend most of your time doing.

    1. Consular Officer – These are the guys who provide the services of the US government to individuals in foreign countries. This can be assisting US nationals who are in the foreign country (IE, if they get arrested or want an adoption or whatever) and helping process requests for citizenship from the foreign country.

    2. Economic Officer – these people help represent the US’s economic interests abroad. They are interested in getting foreigners to buy US products, to help research and identify economic opportunities in foreign countries and serve as advisors/aiders of trade deals. Any major export of US goods (or major import of foreign goods) likely has one or two economic officers working on it, in some capacity.

    3. Management officer – they run the physical goings-on of the embassy’s and posts. Not really diplomatic, think more HR/facility stuff.

    4. Public Diplomacy Officers – the US’s PR staff abroad. The host outreach and help manage public events.

    5. Political Officers – what most people think of when they think “diplomat.” They are the ones who meet with foreign officials, advocate for US policy interests and help negotiate policy. Any treaty or Bilateral agreement or anything you read about a deal between two countries was likely written and researched by one of these guys.

    So, that’s the foreign service in a nutshell. If you want to know more about the specifics of any of these roles, ask away. I’m going to focus now on the application process. It’s goddamn insane. It’s changed (slightly) this year, but I’m going to describe the old system first.

    1. Step One – Take the Foreign Service Officer Test. This is a general test of knowledge and logic. There are questions about math, science, history and reasoning. It’s not trivial, but it’s not too difficult. Roughly 50% of people pass.

    2. Writing Sample – You are given a prompt and asked to write short essay about it in a half hour. It’s on a program that doesn’t allow spelling or grammar checks, and it’s pretty commonly understood that making on of either will result in instant disqualification. Your essay is then read by two individuals who give it a numeric score (I want to say 1-10) If the average of your score is higher than the arbitrary threshold value they select that year (I want to say it was 5 in 2020, but I don’t remember) you move on to the next step. If not, you can pay $30 to have two other readers score your essay and give it a new average, but you can only do that once. You should, according to the FSO reddit and my own personal experience, always pay that $30. They don’t publish any standards as to how they are grading the essay, it’s entirely up to the subjective opinion of the reader. I’ve completed this step 3 times now and received initial scores of 3, 5 and 4. I got my 3 and 4 rescored and ended up with a 7 and a 5. No feedback or explanation of how one grading pair could think my essay was a 3 and another could think it was a 7. Roughly 30% of the initial pool makes it past this step.

    3. Personal narratives – if you make it to this stage you are now asked to complete a series of approximately 20 or so mini-essays about your life, perspectives on diplomacy and capabilities. These are then read and judged. If they like your answers, you move on. I don’t have great statistics, but I hear around 10% of the initial pool makes it past this step.

    4. In-Person interviews – you sign up for a multi-day interview process. These are done both one-on-one with current FSOs and in group discussion style formats with other applicants. The entire time you are here you are constantly being monitored, judged and assigned “points” based on your actions, responses and overall presence and demeanor.

    5. If you score is high enough, congrats! You’re now on the list. The number of points you have determines your placement on the list (so, if you did great at the in-person interview section, you’re near the top. If you just barely squeaked by, you’re at the bottom). But, this doesn’t mean you’re an FSO now. You see, they only need a set number of people, so when they’re training a new class of FSOs, they take the top X people off the list. You can only be on the list for 18 months before you’re kicked off the list and have to start over and new people are being added to the list roughly 4x a year. If you get through this process, but wind up at the bottom of the list, it’s likely best to just withdraw your application so you can start over again. At this point, the best thing to do is try and get points that let you increase your ranking. This can be done either through prior experiences (for example, prior military service gives you a bump here) or by acquiring new skills and languages. If you can test proficiency in a new language, you get more points.

    6. If you’re at the top of the list AND manage to get selected before 18 months have gone by, you now go through medical/security screening. You need to acquire a Top-Secret clearance (IE, no prior criminal activity, no drugs in the last 5 years if ever, no sketchy contacts or financials) and be able to do the job physically.
    For reference, around 100,000 people applied between 2001-2006 to become FSOs and less than 2,200 eventually matriculated. This tracks with other stats I’ve seen that place the final acceptance rate somewhere around 2-5%, depending on year. I’ve read that the average person goes through this process around 3-7 times before being accepted, although this number could be biased upward since presumably the people who succeed on the first time don’t become members of communities of people who are trying to join the foreign service. Also – you are only allowed to apply once a year.

    Who are these people applying? Well, nearly every college has an international relations program and approximately 100% of IR graduates apply for the foreign service. You also get a smattering of former military, mid-career professionals looking for a change and a host of assorted odd characters.

    Remember how I mentioned that they were changing the process of reviewing applicants? Well, starting this year they are having every applicant submit their personal narratives first and then picking the ones they want to take the test from that pool. I’m not sure what effect this will have, but if I had to guess, we’ll see WAY more people screened out at the personal narrative section than we did before.

    This is getting kind of long, so I’ll end it here. Let me know if you have any questions.

    • Nick says:

      Thank you for the writeup!

      You also get a smattering of former military, mid-career professionals looking for a change and a host of assorted odd characters.

      I have to ask—any funny stories about this lot you can share?

      • Aftagley says:

        Well, I should be clear, and should have written this in my initial posting – I’m not in the Foreign Service. One’s pending, one I only got to the written narrative stage and the other I got on the list but withdrew to reapply after it became clear I would drop off before getting selected.

        I’d say the oddest person I met during my multi-day interview process was the guy who showed up wearing matching olive-green corduroy pants and a jacket. He looked like was in his early 20s and had, according to what he said, spent his entire life sailing around the world with his parents. He’d gotten all parts of his education remotely. They’d make landfall in a certain part of the world, stay for a week or two, then sail off again. No clue what happened to him, but I really hope he made it.

        As for the truly weird, well, if you believe what you read in the papers, a non-trivial percentage of people who claim to be FSOs and FSSs are likely spooks of one flavor or another.

    • Erusian says:

      I remember talking to a foreign service recruiter when I was in college. I figured that I would be at least somewhat encouraged to apply because I speak a variety of languages (including one on their in demand list), have extensive experience traveling to various countries, and had background in international topics. My family had also been involved in resettling refugees for decades as a sort of local ambassador, meaning I had extensive direct cultural contact with Iraqis and Afghans. (And Saudis and other Arabs, for what that’s worth.)

      The recruiter was, bar none, the most arrogant git I talked to at the job fair. He ignored me for the girl next to me (a friend of mine). After talking to her without looking at me, he glanced at me and then asked her if she had any questions, pointedly excluding me. After she was done, I asked a question and he went on a long rambling comment about how I was immature and how great the foreign service was. Keep in mind, I hadn’t actually said anything beyond a perfunctory greeting, handing over my resume, and asking him to tell me about the foreign service. He also said most people were too naive and how reading the news was worthless because everything important went on behind closed doors. Including cliche lines about how what he knew would shock me. When I walked away with the woman he’d focused on I said that was weird and she replied, “He really, really didn’t like you.”

      What really struck me about it was how undiplomatic the guy representing the diplomatic corps was. It was entirely due to him I declined to apply. I ended up (initially) at a big company in the private sector, where I was considered good enough at dealing with foreigners that I was repeatedly pressed into that duty. But I’m curious: is this typical? If not, how atypical is this? He mentioned how hard it was to get in too but with a distinct, “So I’m better than you,” air. (The Army recruiter was much nicer, by the by, as was the guy for Interior.)

      • Aftagley says:

        Department of the Interior people are, in my experience, the nicest people you will ever meet. It’s downright uncanny. I think there’s something in the water; I recently went to a meeting with a bunch of Fish and wildlife service folks and I thought I’d stumbled into a cult meeting.

        Anyway, on to your point. I’d start by pointing out that if they have this dude meeting with a bunch of college kids, he’s not out there meeting with foreign powers. That might be on purpose… but, yeah. This doesn’t surprise me. FSOs have a reputation throughout the USG as being kinda full of themselves (or as being pretentious prima donnas, depending on who you ask). I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but its not at all unique. I know a bunch of marines (service that guards embassies in war zones) that have absolute horror stories about how the FSOs treated them.

        A few years back, during my first application, I was having dinner at a restaurant and just so happened to be seated next to a table full of young-ish FSOs loudly talking about their work. This was a few days after I found out I’d passed the FSOT and I eventually worked up the courage to talk to them about their job. When I mentioned I’d just passed the test, they all laughed and assured me I probably wouldn’t get in. Sure, they were right, but still…

        • Erusian says:

          It’s a pity because I still think State is our real frontline service, not any of the military branches. I think it’s underfunded and underappreciated. But the people actually in State make it so difficult to like them, ironically.

          Anyway, it turned out alright for me. I’ve done very well for myself in private industry. I’ve even got regular opportunities to interact with foreign bigwigs, mostly of the corporate or trade department varieties. My interest was the economic part of the corps anyway. And I make more money and have more control over where I go and what I do.

          Good luck. And if you do get it, don’t let it go to your head.

          • Aftagley says:

            Good luck. And if you do get it, don’t let it go to your head.

            Thanks! Although, at this point, while I’ll likely keep applying since it doesn’t cost me anything, accepting a job in the FS would mean a reduction in pay, professional prestige and negate around a half decade of establishing a skill set. I’d maybe, maybe take it, but it wouldn’t be a sure thing.

    • Fascinating. It reminds me of the examination system in Imperial China. That too had people trying multiple times, and it was even more selective. Is there a test of your calligraphy at some point? Did there used to be?

      You are given a prompt and asked to write short essay about it in a half hour.

      I’ve been arguing for a long time that colleges should do something along those lines for applicants. The ability to write is an important skill for a college student, and the present test for that consists of sending in an essay with no evidence that the applicant wrote it, let alone that he did so without assistance. I would be inclined to offer a choice of topics, and more than half an hour.

      • Aftagley says:

        I would be inclined to offer a choice of topics

        Mea culpa, you’re actually given three. Most of them take the form of some kind of controversial quote and then they ask you if you agree or not and then to justify your position.

        I’ve been arguing for a long time that colleges should do something along those lines for applicants.

        I guess, but I really, really didn’t like the way it was done, since there’s no indication what kind of writing they’re looking for.

        Is there a test of your calligraphy at some point? Did there used to be?

        Ha, if so, I haven’t made it to that stage yet.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Great write-up, thank you! Also,

      it’s pretty commonly understood that making on of either will result in instant disqualification.

      heh, heh.

    • Aftagley says:

      I think the biggest issue is that the vast majority of people who apply are very motivated to take the job and are probably qualified. The baroque process, IMO, is just a way to reduce a qualified applicant pool of tens of thousands down to the hundred or so they need in a way that doesn’t open them up to accusations of bias.

      In the past, the state department used to be a good old boy network; you got in either because you went to Yale (or Harvard or another ivy league) and got your professor to write you a letter or because you dad was friends with an ambassador.

      You can’t do that anymore, however, so the current process just kind of randomly selects a small percentage of people while managing to screen out those who are actively unqualified. Sure, maybe you don’t select the best people… but if you assume the applicant pool are all basically equally qualified then you don’t need to.

      • John Schilling says:

        You can’t do that anymore, however, so the current process just kind of randomly selects a small percentage of people while managing to screen out those who are actively unqualified

        It seems to me that the “personal narrative” sort could well be used to select for Good Old Boys, if one were so inclined, while being dubiously correlated with objective competence.

    • cassander says:

      Remember how I mentioned that they were changing the process of reviewing applicants? Well, starting this year they are having every applicant submit their personal narratives first and then picking the ones they want to take the test from that pool.

      It was bad enough when they added in the QEP and made the test shorter, this is worse. It’s like they’re trying to make pool of selectees worse. though, to be fair, bureaucratically shooting itself in the foot is a storied state department tradition.

  41. gdanning says:

    I don’t understand what you are trying to say? Are you asking why the emergency edicts have not been supplanted by laws passed by the legislature(s) since the beginning of the pandemic? Isn’t the most obvious answer that those legislatures are fine with the status quo? And, isn’t that democracy, not dictatorship? After all, the governors are acting under legal authority granted to them by legislatures, and when they ostensibly exceed that grant, stuff like this happens.

    • gdanning says:

      I think you are missing my point is that we ARE using the first system. Legislatures are in session and can repeal or pass any laws they want, just as in pre-COVID days. The fact that they have not exercised their power to check governors is not evidence that they no longer have them. It us evidence that they agree with what governors are doing.

      • albatross11 says:

        …or at least that they don’t want to take the blame if they reverse the governor’s decision, and then everything goes pear-shaped….

  42. rks says:

    California Prop 13 seems unfair on a fundamental level, it is essentially feudal: landed gentry class has been created and they can pass on their land to the first-born offsprings (other offsprings are screwed but who has more than one kid anyway). It just so happens that we live not that far from when it’s started but given another 100 years, the accumulated effects are going to be highly detrimental to the economic growth of the state.

    Yet it seems nigh impossible to do anything with it because game theory wins for every existing homeowner are way higher with Prop 13 than without it. This brings a question, how can equilibriums like this one be changed democratically and without violence?

    In theory, Prop 13 can be repealed eventually when the number of voting non-homeowners outweighs homeowners but people can instead just vote themselves into the benefit club instead of abolishing the club itself, perpetuating the cycle instead of fixing it.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Perhaps it could be struck down as unconstitutional somehow?

      • keaswaran says:

        There’s nothing unconstitutional about limiting taxes to some function of the price at last sale. Stupid, yes, but unconstitutional, no.

    • gdanning says:

      I guess I don’t understand. People could always pass on their property to their children. Under current CA law (as I understand it not Prop 13, but an initiative passed later), if you pass your land to your child, the land is not reassessed for property tax purposes, which might or might not be inequitable, but it is hardly creating a “landed gentry.” We are talking about maybe 1.5% of the value of the property, which is nice to have every year, but hardly a source of wealth.

      • rks says:

        Interest accumulates, in 100 years multi-generational Californian family will have a significant tax advantage in comparison with newcomers. And then, effectively you cannot pass the property to several children, not for more than one generation at least, so not every Californian is going to benefit either.

      • unreliabletags says:

        The only way to obtain this particular benefit is to be born into a lineage that owned property in the right place at the right time. That’s what makes it interestingly feudal. Economic success can get you a house, but it will never work around having the wrong bloodline with respect to property taxes. The only way to fix that is marriage.

        These families get municipal services essentially for free. Your 1975 property taxes do jack shit to defray your child’s teacher’s 2020 rent. Those who are not grandfathered have to pay for everything, either directly through property taxes, or indirectly via the impact fees assessed on developers. This is easily $1.5k/month over and above the value of the property itself.

        I’ve seen arguments that this is right: they were there first, it’s their city, they built it, the new arrivals have higher salaries and can afford it, we get a more stable / higher-trust society by favoring long-term residents and repelling “transients” (this means tech workers, btw, we’d never slander people experiencing homelessness with such a term).

        But these are basically arguments that the aristocracy’s superiority is legitimate and that its advantages are deserved. I’ve not yet seen a compelling argument for why we shouldn’t think of it as an aristocracy.

    • Dack says:

      This brings a question, how can equilibriums like this one be changed democratically and without violence?

      Vote with your feet.

      The real estate price bubble problem is caused by people insisting that they must live in a particular location and that someone should make it affordable for them to do so. If enough people realize that they are better off obtaining similar quality housing that can be had in other markets for 1/10 of the price, then many of them will move…both obtaining better QoL for themselves and eventually deflating prices back in Cali.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Probably the best answer. I’m not sure you can undo a Proposition 13 until the state fails.

        If it’s impossible to undo, how can you stop it from becoming law in the first place?

        • rks says:

          That is kinda my question. Contrived example: everyone can vote today to give every American citizen and their descendants double vote in elections let’s say. Benefit is certainly fairly distributed now but not in the future. Immigration won’t stop and at some point there will appear an underclass with 1 vote, forever disenfranchised, and while initial immigrants are indeed okay with that disparity or simply don’t care, their descendants will not have had a choice.

          That’s why I find Prop 13 so interesting – it is basically the formula of the example above except totally benign looking.

      • rks says:

        The real estate price bubble problem is caused by people (Californians circa 1978) insisting that they must live in a particular location (world-class cities, one of the richest US states) and that someone (California state) should make it affordable for them to do so (via Prop 13).

        Anyway, I’m not sure that people leaving is what will solve this situation. There are massive feedback effects pulling people in and quite a lot of comfort can be sacrificed for opportunities especially since many other places are not doing great (and have negative feedback effects going for them as well).

      • keaswaran says:

        I don’t think it works like that. There just *isn’t* similar quality housing available elsewhere, because as everyone knows, the three most important qualities of a house are location, location, and location.

        The real estate price problem is caused by people restricting the supply of housing in a location that has important virtues, both as the most habitable climate for humans, and more importantly, as the coordinated solution to the question of where people with particular interests tend to locate (for sets of interests as varied as making pop music, programming database software, forming polyamorous relationships, and filming advertisements).

        • Dack says:

          No. People playing exploitative supplyside games are a symptom of inexorable demand.

          There is nothing truly unique about the location…any of these communities could mutually agree to coalesce around a much more affordable metro. Until then, if your demand is truly infinite, then it is only fair to charge an infinite price.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      Reform it in a way that doesn’t pit you against all homeowners at once? Examples:

      1. Cap property taxes at 0%, get your government revenue somewhere else. This automatically removes the new/old homeowner distinction.
      2. Properties are re-assessed regularly, but your property value only drives your relative share of property taxes (the New Hampshire model). Cap total property taxes to only increase at some fixed rate. You’ll get the support of those with higher-than-average property values, the opposition of those with lower-than average rates.

      • add_lhr says:

        Does that only happen in New Hampshire? I had no idea! Growing up, I used to be so confused when I would read references to property revaluation fights elsewhere in the country – people would complain about town-wide reassessments and it seemed absolutely idiotic to complain about that. I always thought that everywhere in the US worked the same – if the tax base went up, the tax rate went down, so only relative differences mattered.

        Amazing… learn something new every day 🙂

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          It certainly works that way in Minnesota. Every year the tax for each jurisdiction is divided by total tax capacity (all the parcels in that jurisdiction) to determine tax per unit of tax capacity, and then the tax is divvied up to each parcel based on its tax capacity. My tax bill is the cumulative total of all these pieces for all the jurisdictions I live in (city, county, school district, and some others). I think this is the standard way to determine property tax, and California may be an outlier.

          So yes, if the assessors raise the valuation of every property by the same rate, it will have zero effect on everyone’s taxes. But it will make it easier to prove that the valuation is too high in court, so the litigious may do better if all valuations increase.

          • RobJ says:

            Washington, too. It doesn’t seem to stop people from being furious about higher assessments, though, for some reason.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Some possible steps to take, in order of political difficulty:

      — Split roll: undo it for commercial properties first, so you don’t gore any homeowner oxen and people can see that the sky doesn’t fall. IIRC there is already a movement to get this on the ballot.

      — Restrict the residential cap to primary residences only: this gores more oxen, and has somewhat complicated interactions with rental property. But at least nobody’s grandmother is going to get priced out of the home they’ve lived in for 50 years, and it’s difficult to argue that if that grandmother is lucky enough to also own a ski place in Tahoe or a beach cottage or whatever, they should get the tax break on the second home too.

      — Raise but don’t eliminate the cap: you could make it similar to some rent control laws, i.e. the maximum annual increase is now 5% or 7% plus inflation. Doing that with rental property keeps it fair to landlords who are subject to rent control laws, and gives affected homeowners time to adapt gradually to the fact that they’ll eventually need to take in renters or move to a smaller place or cheaper neighborhood.

      — Kill the residential cap entirely for new home purchasers but grandfather it in for existing homeowners. New purchasers already get their taxes reset to market rate assessment levels anyway. Knowing that they’ll also be subject to higher property taxes down the line will lower home purchase values, so this has some negative effect on existing homeowners, but at least it’s a second order effect.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:


        If you want to pay rates based on 1970 prices, okay.

        But when you die, you sell the house to the state for 1970 prices.

        This takes care of grandma getting evicted. And finds out how bad they want it.

        • zzzzort says:

          That is my favorite implausible idea for dealing with NIMBYism. If you want to quash all development in your neighborhood, then you should have to forgo appreciation due to development happening in neighboring areas.

        • keaswaran says:

          Ah, I had always thought the solution was to allow deferral of the tax until transfer of the property. But just mandating sale to the local taxing authority at the taxed price is an interesting alternative. (This could be a problem if there is a school district and a city and a county that all tax property values, but I haven’t looked into whether there are such cases in California.)

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      Is residential home ownership declining in California? It’s been trending down in the UK for a while I think (and especially London), which faces similar housing problems to much of the US. I would expect that to put pressure on the government to actually tackle the problem.

      • Lambert says:

        It’ll put pressure on the government to do something about the problem.

        Doing something that won’t make things worse is a rather higher bar.

  43. LudwigNagasena says:

    It is a misconception that puritans were ashamed of sex. One church minister has said “Women are Creatures without which there is no comfortable Living for man: it is true of them what is wont to be said of Governments, That bad ones are better than none: They are a sort of Blasphemers then who dispise and decry them, and call them a necessary Evil, for they are a necessary Good.”


    • Jitters says:

      My understanding was that they came down very hard on extramarital sex?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Well, yes. But marital sex was expected to be frequent and joyful. They also didn’t wear all black with a white base layer: that’s a false stereotype people laid on them due to confusion with Quakers.
        Plymouth’s General Court banned lace and silver and gold thread. Further, it decreed: ‘No person either man or woman shall make or buy any slashed clothes, other than one slash in each sleeve and another in the back.”
        Thou mayst have but three slashes in a garment to show off a fancy lining!

    • bullseye says:

      Some people think sex is fun, so’s it’s not hard to imagine fun-haters hating sex too.

    • cassander says:

      to quote the sage of Baltimore, puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy.

  44. Prophet says:

    Very late response, but I wanted to say thank you Scott, for the January post on assortive mating and autism. While I treat your findings with appropriate caution, I am still nonetheless a little less anxious than I was about having a kid with my similarly EA partner.

    Hope I’ve posted in the right place.

  45. keaswaran says:

    I don’t know how many states this is true of, but in Texas for instance, the legislature only meets from January to June of odd numbered years. The governor can sometimes call an emergency session outside of the regular six month period (like he did 8 years or so ago when Wendy Davis filibustered the anti-abortion bill and prevented it from being passed in the ordinary term, so he called them up for a few more weeks to get it passed). But it’s very unusual to call an extra session of the Texas legislature nearly a year after they already recessed. So we’re effectively stuck without a legislature until after the next elections in November.

    I believe there’s also been a bunch of different responses by state legislatures to the idea of coming up with a way to safely meet during a pandemic. Some legislatures have set up online meetings, but others have actually just canceled the session rather than meeting online. It’s very weird.

  46. AG says:

    Because the state legislatures are completely dropping the ball and leaving it to the executive branch to take all of the credit and blame.

  47. kenziegirl says:

    Hi, I’m curious about suggestions for careers where you can travel. (We live in the USA). I have a 6yo very interested in adventuring, he loves globetrotting stories about treasure hunts & archeological digs, etc., and he’s stated a wish to both visit a rainforest and see Everest. He’s 6, and his aspirations could change in the future of course. But I am just trying to figure out what actual careers he might find satisfying in this vein. I thought travel writer but I don’t imagine that could be a steady source of income unless he got real lucky. Surely there are people who actually go to archeological digs, or natural science people observing, cataloging and identifying new animal species or something. Closer to home I thought maybe park ranger? What are those sorts of careers called? Does the travel component make up a big portion or is it more one phase of a career, after which you settle down and publish your research about it? What other career paths am I missing?

    • rodan32 says:

      I have a friend of a friend who is an archaeology professor at BYU. He travels pretty frequently to Central America (Maya civilization is his field) for digs. I wouldn’t say the pay is amazing, but he makes a living. It seems like travel is part of the job in all phases, at least from graduate school on up through tenure. Definitely hard work, but if it’s a passion, probably a fulfilling career.

    • Wency says:

      I knew a guy who got a Ph.D. in some realm of biology and dreamed of traveling the world, cataloguing new species. Instead he did that a few times in grad school but afterwards had a tough time finding work. He ended up in Indiana, writing boring environmental impact reports on new real estate developments. Now obviously someone is cataloguing new species, but I don’t know enough about that domain to know what this guy did wrong in his career planning. His grad school was a pretty middling public U, so maybe the lesson is if you’re contemplating a Ph.D. in a poorly compensated field, don’t bother if it’s not a top-tier school.

      There are of course lots of short-term young person’s games like the Peace Corps, the military, mission work, ex-pat English teaching jobs, and cruise ship employees.

      One of the most well-traveled guys I know left Texas to work for Saudi Aramco, and he lived in Saudi for some years. In addition to getting paid extremely well and not having to pay taxes, he was given an absurdly large amount of vacation time by American standards (at least 6 weeks, maybe more) Plus he was starting in Saudi so it was easier to visit a large chunk of the world that’s tough for an American to get to. He spent tons of time going all over Asia, Africa, and Australia. The days of that career path might be just about over. But I wonder if other corporate ex-pat options like that might exist in some other industry.

      • MilesM says:

        There’s plenty of biology jobs that will take you all sort of interesting places… They’re just not necessarily nice places.

        Lots of them involve chasing down infectious disease in developing countries – which can certainly be considered an adventure.

        In my experience, a decent number of marine biologists get pretty good gigs that take them nice places.

        Especially relative to the people who go someplace requiring 30 vaccinations to spread plastic sheets under trees and catch monkey droppings, or to countries best known for their amazing variety of blood parasites.
        (And even if they don’t get to constantly travel the world, they aren’t necessarily hurting when they spend their summers at places like

        Actually, the best deal I’ve seen in terms of going places for work was a woman who researches the venom of marine snails (for drug discovery) – her list of places she “had to” go for work was basically a subset of “nice places with tropical beaches people pay good money to vacation in.”

        • Aftagley says:

          In my experience, a decent number of marine biologists get pretty good gigs that take them nice places.

          Change that to “employed” marine biologists. Almost every employed marine biologist I know loves their job and travels to absolutely amazing places… but I know way more unemployed marine biologists than I do ones who have a job.

    • AG says:

      I mean, the actual majority of air travel is business trips, right? So getting to a certain level of business executive for a company with sites all around the world is cushy pay and loads of travel (to which they can tag on vacation days for sightseeing). After that, business/management consultant.

      • Wency says:

        In my experience business trips really suck though. That’s not good travel. If you’re in the US, you’re probably going to the same places — cities like NY/LA/SF/Boston/Chicago, or conference destinations like Las Vegas/Orlando. You’re almost never leaving the US. Taking those extra days off might not be an option a lot of the time, for various reasons — you might be stuck going from meeting to meeting to airport, lucky to grab 8 hours of sleep at your hotel.

        Also, by the time you have some flexibility about where and how to travel, you might have a family and kids and just want to get back home.

        • Matt M says:

          Depends heavily on the business. At high level management consulting, you travel very well, even if you’re a junior associate fresh out of college…

        • SamChevre says:

          That’s if it’s conference travel. If you’re going to client sites, you can end up in a lot of places that are very off the beaten path–for a reason. As a former colleague who was a former consultant said, “Any week in first quarter that starts off with ‘travel to Fort Wayne’ is not going to be fun. Although it still beats spending 2 days in Newark and then going to Fort Wayne.”

          • Wency says:

            Yeah, I’ve never met any consultants who regarded travel as a positive aspect of the job (and I met quite a few consultants in MBA school).

            I actually think these off-the-beaten-path places are often nice to live in and raise a family, but presumably you can see all the sites, if there are any, in a day. Then you’re spending M-F working all day with a client and spending your evenings alone at a Marriott Courtyard, eating takeout. You fly home on the weekend, and then fly back the following Monday.

        • Loriot says:

          I once volunteered to go to a conference in Switzerland just because I wanted to see Switzerland. Unfortunately, I spent most of the time working and barely got any chance to do real tourism.

          • Randy M says:

            That is a shame, Switzerland is breath-taking, at least the couple of quaint alpine valley villages I visited, Pontresina and Churwalden.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Last fall, I jumped at the chance to go to a conference in Prague. I didn’t get a real chance to see the city during the conference, but I took a vacation week afterwards so I could actually see it.

            It was excellent.

    • Erusian says:

      Park rangers don’t travel much though they do interact with nature a lot. You can travel for archeology but you’re going to repeatedly go to the same spot. In general, you’re going to specialize and spend your entire career excavating one part of Israel or Budapest or something. You can get into a wide variety of sites as an undergrad doing basically internships but not as a professor.

      There’s a lot of professions that involve travel to cities. You know, where people and money are. But that’s not really adventure in the Indiana Jones sense.

      Honestly, it sounds like his only option is to be a travel blogger/influencer because all of the travel he’s interested in is adventure traveling. That’s a type of vacation, not really an economically productive activity. The good news is that it’s not that hard to make a modest living as an influencer/writer, at least not right now, because the competition isn’t that great. He just has to be a decent online marketer. Alternatively, he could go the digital nomad route and travel in between doing some other kind of work.

      • FLWAB says:

        Park rangers don’t travel much though they do interact with nature a lot.

        Not true! I actually worked three summers as a park ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park (I just took peoples money when they came in, but I was still technically a ranger: I had the straw hat and everything!). While there I got to see what a career as a National Park Ranger looks like, and it requires a lot of travel. If you want to move up the ladder then you need to be willing to move to National Parks anywhere in the country on a regular basis: a year here, a couple years there, lots of hopping around.

        Why? Because as a civil service it’s hard for people to get fired so there isn’t a lot of churn. If you want to be promoted you need to wait for a spot to open up due to someone retiring or getting promoted themselves. This will only very rarely happen at the park you are currently working at, but across all the National Parks in the country there’s likely to be a spot available somewhere. Everyone I met who wasn’t in an entry level position had worked at four or five parks previous: the higher up the chain, the more parks. And everybody spends a year at Grand Canyon. That park has ridiculous churn, mostly because it has massive crowds and they always need more help. Plus if you do a year or two at Grand Canyon it helps you get into other parks: if you can handle Grand Canyon, you can certainly handle 99% of other National Parks.

        Ultimately it’s why I chose not to pursue a career as a ranger, even though I as very attracted to the lifestyle. I don’t want to spend my life hopping from place to place. Since you want to I would highly recommend checking out the National Park Service. A word of warning: it can be hard to get an entry level position. I only got in because my brother had worked there a few years before and he vouched for me with the local supervisor. I have no idea how my brother managed to get in: I think a friend vouched for him. But it might be easier to get into a different position then I was applying for, since money takers require little experience and consist mostly of college kids.

        • Erusian says:

          My mistake. Still, it sounds like you travel a lot between national parks but not internationally or to anything resembling adventure vacations.

          • FLWAB says:

            True. But within the US park system, there’s a lot of cool places to check out. And you’d be hopping between the most beautiful and interesting places the US has to offer.

          • Erusian says:

            Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good job. I seriously considered applying at one point but ended up realizing I liked cities too much. Just not what they’re looking for, I think.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            One caveat here for nature lovers: A large portion of the National Park System is historical parks, historical sites, memorials, and battlefield parks.

            From speaking with interpreter and LE Rangers, you should expect to spend at least half your career at places like Ellis Island and Vicksburg. So ideally you should love borh natural beauty AND American history. If you only want to work in places like Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Zion, etc you may be disappointed.

          • Nick says:

            LE Rangers

            Seriously read this as Lawful Evil Rangers for a second.

            I found a mystery series as a little kid about a woman who worked as a park ranger but also solved murders. (I don’t remember the name of it, and I think I came across it at my aunt’s house or something.) In one book I found she was in the American Southwest, and I think there were old Pueblo sites there. In another, she was in New York visiting her sister, and stopped at the Statue of Liberty.

          • Matt M says:

            One caveat here for nature lovers: A large portion of the National Park System is historical parks, historical sites, memorials, and battlefield parks.

            Alternatively, you can work in national parks without having to work for the NPS.

            My sister and brother-in-law both work for a major resort company that has the primary food and lodging contracts for a few big (popular) national parks. They basically live at one of the big ones.

          • FLWAB says:

            My sister and brother-in-law both work for a major resort company that has the primary food and lodging contracts for a few big (popular) national parks. They basically live at one of the big ones.

            That is a good way to go if you want to live in a park. I was always envious of the trail rangers, but the job I most wanted at Mt. Rainier was to be the operator of the Paradise Inn.

        • psmith says:

          You see a similar dynamic in other Federal land management agencies (biggest to smallest: USFS, BLM, USFWS) and CDF (within California, but there’s a lot of California). Most Federal land outside of the park system wasn’t selected for scenic/historic/recreational value, but there’s a lot more of it, it’s generally a lot less crowded, there are fewer rules about what you can do on it, cost of living at or within commuting distance of the duty station is generally lower, and there are more jobs available.

          The vast majority of jobs, especially at the entry level, especially if you want benefits and a pipeline to career advancement, are in fire. At least in the Forest Service, most “ranger” positions are either high-ranking administrative roles with very little fieldwork, or they’re law enforcement.

          • FLWAB says:

            We always looked up to the law enforcement rangers: unlike the rest of us, they got guns, and if they give you a speeding ticket it’s technically a federal offense.

            But yeah, I’d say most of the rangers were working a desk job or something like it. I wanted to be a trail ranger, as far as I can tell they just patrol the back country making sure people have their camping tags and helping out people. Being paid to hike on the most beautiful mountain in America seemed really appealing, but no career advancement there, it’s true.

    • Elena Yudovina says:

      Former colleague worked for a zoo — half the year he did their IT in Nebraska, the other half he spent on Madagascar. The sense I got was that this is a semi-volunteer thing though, in that the actual pay wasn’t enough to live on sustainably (but was good for maybe a few years). The thing is, I’m pretty sure they only went to Madagascar — you don’t get to go both to the Amazon and to the Everest. (I would guess that archaeology has a similar problem.)

      Becoming a mathematician might not be a bad bet: the conferences end up being all over the place. (Assuming this doesn’t change in the aftermath of covid19…) There was a few years’ stretch when my husband and I were both in academia; his subfield’s annual conference was in Iceland, Japan, and Vancouver (in some order order) and my subfield’s annual conference was in Costa Rica. Also, I got to go to New Zealand to visit a coauthor. I don’t know if all academic disciplines are like that; I have a hunch that among the sciences math might be particularly mobile since it doesn’t need labs, but maybe the humanities move around too. Obviously traveling isn’t itself the job, but you get a pretext, and potentially don’t have to pay for all the airfare out-of-pocket.

      My father is an electrical engineer working in power plant automatization: he’s had field projects in middles of nowhere in the US, Mexico, and Israel, and I’m sure more destinations would’ve been available. The scenery on the job is lacking (think North Dakota mining), but you can take field trips to some interesting places.

      And of course, there’s the option “make money, travel in your spare time”.

      • albatross11 says:

        Cryptography conferences are similarly all over the planet.

        • Lambert says:

          I think all research/academia is.
          Above a doctoral level, the talent and institutions seem to be spread right across the world.
          About half the profs who’ve lectured me in my degree course have come from abroad.

          • Ketil says:

            Above a doctoral level, the talent and institutions seem to be spread right across the world.

            Yet somehow, when it comes to education people choose to pay six digit figures for tuition at some specific place where they most likely hardly ever get to even talk to the top people…

    • add_lhr says:

      Being a Foreign Service Officer will get you to some pretty interesting places. The early part of your career will likely feature some quite adventurous countries (possibly including active conflict zones). FSOs generally switch countries every 2 (sometimes 4 I believe) years, and will occasionally have postings back in DC for one of those cycles every once in a while. However, it can be a hard life from what I’ve heard (I’ve done the expat thing for a few years and went to school with a bunch of FSOs), as you have relatively little control over where you get posted early on and having a normal social life can be tough – you can basically hang out with other diplomats and US military, but having local friends is a bit more fraught. In many countries there will also be some security restrictions that limit which parts of the country you can actually see on your time off.

      There’s also a niche but fairly constant set of opportunities with the “implementing partners” of major aid agencies – NGOs that work on the ground to run programs funded by USAID. Things like organizing small-scale farmers into co-operatives, helping set up health clinics, training rural government officials, etc in various developing countries. That is field-based and generally 6 month to 3-5 year contracts, so lots of opportunity to move around. Eventually in that career you would progress to a home office or capital city posting as a “chief of party” where you do more admin and management, although you could still spend your entire career outside the US.

      • Aftagley says:

        As someone who went through the FSO selection process a few times, it’s an absolute mess. If there’s any interest in this process, I’ll do an effort post on it. Suffice to say, it’s nuts. We’re talking about roughly a 6 stage process with a single-digit acceptance rate.

        Among the community, there’s pretty widespread acceptance that getting in is kind of a crap-shoot. If you have a life goal of becoming an FSO, AND are qualified to do so, you should prepare to spend roughly 3-7 years basically doing nothing while you are applying.

        • Aftagley says:

          Fair, enough, I’ll start drawing one up.

        • Wency says:

          I can concur, at least from stories when my father did this in I think the early 70s and couldn’t get in. He went to a top-20 US university, had military experience, was extremely well-read on world affairs, geography, history, and diplomacy, pretty good at languages for an American (spoke semi-passable French and a bit of Spanish and German), and was always both an extremely good interviewer and test-taker.

          I think he landed every other job he ever interviewed for (which resulted in getting in over his head a few times), but couldn’t land that FSO position.

    • drunkfish says:

      I have a friend who’s a chemical engineer and he helps set up new oil-related plants for his company. His list in a couple years includes multiple countries in asia, multiple countries in the middle east, one country in europe, a country in africa upcoming, and probably more that I don’t know about. His postings are several months at a time, and it seems incredibly draining, but it’s an enormous amount of travel with legitimate exposure to the cultures I think.

      Personally, I’m a grad student in a STEM field where the only real field work in my field was done by 12 dudes between 1969 and 1972, and I still get to do a pretty nice amount of travel going to conferences. I’ve been to a handful of places in the US, France, UK semi-planned (and it’d be for a month+), Japan not unlikely. My officemates have hit switzerland, japan, korea, probably more. These are just conferences obviously, but my strategy is that any reasonably worthwhile place, I add some time onto the trip to enjoy on my own (3 days added to my DC trip, a full week added to my France trip, probably a week+ added to an upcoming oregon trip if it doesn’t end up in pandemic-purgatory), and all I have to fund is a cheap hostel.

      Thats in a fieldwork-phobic field, if it gets even slightly more fieldwork adjacent, that’ll open up some more. One of the major perks IMO of being a STEM grad is the amount of travel involved.

    • zoozoc says:

      As others are saying, most jobs where you travel are not actually conducive to vacation/adventure traveling. So I would think the best chance for actual pleasure traveling would be to become a teacher and travel during the ~3 months off. The pay is just average, but I can’t think of many other jobs that give someone as much time off as teachers. And the time-off is usually the issue with traveling a lot with most jobs.

      • Lambert says:

        I once met someone who did this, but they taught the kids of military personnel on overseas bases.

        So you can work abroad in Europe or Okinawa or somewhere then go travelling.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      The Army (inappropriate topic expanding meme)

    • One slightly tangential point …

      In my experience, visiting foreign places is more interesting if you have something to do there than if you are merely touristing. In my case it’s mostly speaking trips, which don’t involve any deep connection to the country but do involve interacting with the people who have invited me, the people who come to hear me, and the like. But I expect the same would be true for most people who are in a foreign country because some of the people there want them to come and engage in some activity with them.

      Along somewhat analogous lines, I find visiting a museum more interesting if there is some particular sort of information I am trying to get from the visit. In my case that’s likely to be something like looking at paintings for pictures of furniture I might want to build, or trying to expand my information about migration period jewelry, or the like.

    • spandrel says:

      People who work in global health can see much of the world, and feel somewhat useful doing so. If you know a lot about improving sanitation, say, or coaching midwives, you will be paid to travel to places, and usually the people there will be glad to see you. Of course you aren’t paid to climb Everest, but you might be paid to live in Nepal for a month, where you can learn the ins and outs of arranging a climb before you leave.

      I work in public health epidemiology and have seen much of the world that way.

    • Izaak says:

      Field Linguists will generally visit one location many times over the course of a few years to build up enough research to publish a paper, but the same is true of Biologists and Archaeologists I suppose.

      In general, the job of a field linguist is not so different from that of a field biologist. They will travel to some poorly documented part of the world, and study the language(s) that are found there. I’ve met people who have travelled to remote areas, meeting the three people in their 80s who still speak the language, and attempting to document as much of it as possible so that in the future, it is available to researchers who want to study the history and evolution of languages, to these people’s grandchildren, who may want to learn the language for cultural reasons.

      In the field of linguistics, as long as America is the biggest player on the world stage there will be demand everywhere for English teachers, and that was a job that was advertised constantly to me when I was a linguistics student.

    • zzzzort says:

      Extractive industries are probably the safest bet. Lots of travel, lots of adventurous locations, often get to go outside, and still collect a nice paycheck. You just have to be ok with maybe making the local nature a little less nice.

      The university I went to had a very good geology program, and it was full of mainly hippy kids who loved nature, but you knew that most of them were going to end up being paid by some sort of oil/mining company.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Airline or corporate pilot would be a decent option. Job prospects should be pretty good in 15 years

  48. Garrett says:

    I’ve been looking at ways to reduce my consumption of Chinese products and services. But I keep running into strange issues. Besides there frequently being a lack of options available, it’s surprisingly hard to shop online and include/exclude country of origin/manufacture.

    And then things get weird.

    I encountered this online. From AliExpress (Alibaba’s consumer shopping website), I found the following: Airsoft LA PEQ15 for about $45. This is in comparison to the “legitimate” versions such as this one which retails for about $1,250.

    So my first thought is that the price discrepancy is somewhat insane -roughly 25x the price. Is there anybody out there who does product comparisons to determine how good this “knock off” stuff is? Assuming it’s not a complete scam, what are the practical differences in the quality which can be obtained for an extra $1,000?

    But then things get stranger. From what little I’ve been able to determine, infrared (IR) lasers are limited to 0.7mW output for the civilian market. Versions with eg. 4mW output are limited to the military, law enforcement, etc. Yet the stickers on the “knock off” version claim an output of up to 100mW. I have no idea if this is true, or if they meant 100 microwatts, or something else. Or maybe they just got a deal on a bunch of very unsafe IR lasers. Who knows. But assuming that this is indeed accurate, it’s possible to get something more powerful than available to the consumer market by ordering from China.

    And then you deal with the more annoying. The US has this history of categorizing a whole lot of things as “munitions” under ITAR and thus restricting “export” without a license. (What qualifies as “export” isn’t always intuitive). But stuff which is imported under a non-ITAR regime probably isn’t so-restricted. I can just imagine a competitive paintball team from the US being thrown in prison because they temporarily took their gear across the border into Canada without filing the right paperwork in advance.

    In summary, I’m able to buy a “knock-off” for 1/25th of the price which might be better than what I can buy in the US and with fewer legal restrictions. How does this remotely make sense?

    • Lambert says:

      > Or maybe they just got a deal on a bunch of very unsafe IR lasers.

      Most likely. You can buy some worryingly powerful lasers online.
      Like this one

      IIRC lots of high-power green lasers consist of an IR laser and a nonlinear optic that turns two photons into one with double the energy. So there’s a lot of class IV IR diodes floating around.

      Post Script:
      Safety Warning
      Don’t buy one. you’ll go blind. 1W is enough to damage your eyes even if you just look at a wall you’re shining it at. And since it’s IR you won’t even be able to see it.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        1W is enough to damage your eyes even if you just look at a wall you’re shining it at. And since it’s IR you won’t even be able to see it.

        That’s rather frightening to imagine. Someone could do it in a movie theatre or opera or school classroom and we’d never be able to catch them.

    • Tarpitz says:

      assuming that this is indeed accurate, it’s possible to get something more powerful than available to the consumer market by ordering from China.

      I don’t know if this is true now, but it was certainly true in 2007 when we bought a bunch of illegal Chinese laser pointers to build into prop ray-guns for our terrible Scientology musical.

    • mustacheion says:

      100mW is an insane amount of power for a laser system that isn’t an industrial CO2 cutting laser. I’m not enough of an expert to know for sure, but I am highly skeptical that you can get anywhere near that power without a tabletop setup.

      On the other hand, I think your $1000 air-soft gun is probably legitimately overpriced compared to the Chinese knock-off, but only because the Chinese decided to invest lots more money into hard-tooling their product than the American company did. The American company most likely set up their production lines to produce 1000’s of guns a year, and at those scales, it is far cheaper to rely on lots of human labor and more expensive small-batch manufacturing. China, on the other hand, is much more about scale. They decided that they were going to try to produce 10,000’s of guns a year, and invested in fully custom, dedicated, automatic production lines.

      This is just what the Chinese do. The Chinese government is very interested in supporting their manufacturing industry, and so they make very cheap loans to companies to tool parts like this. The government quite frequently takes a loss on these loans, but profiting from the loan itself isn’t actually the point for them, the point is building up such a such a dominant manufacturing base that they can capture global markets and develop geopolitical power. Imagine if the US federal government announced tomorrow that the US’s #1 priority as a country was to drive every foreign air-soft manufacturer in the world out of business, that they would use taxpayer money to do this, and congress and the executive branch were totally on board and cooperating in full. You’d end up with some pretty cheap air-soft guns! The fact that this is the Chinese geopolitical strategy is exactly why it is so important for us Americans to not buy their cheap nock-offs, even though it is so tempting.

    • georgeherold says:

      Re: 100mW IR. It says class 3B laser on it. By which I’d suspect the 100mW number is right. But who knows. I wanted to add that all IR laser are dangerous in principle. (depending on power) For visible laser our eyes ‘blink reflex’ somewhat protects you. Not so in the IR.

    • sfoil says:

      Assuming it’s not a complete scam, what are the practical differences in the quality which can be obtained for an extra $1,000?

      Durability, as verified by some government-mandated inspection and testing regimen. You can play football with an issued PEQ-15 and it will work fine (you cannot, however, run over it with an armored vehicle, at least on a hard surface). More relevantly, if you trip in the woods/swamp and whack it against a rock/submerge it for the umpteeth time, it will still work. How hard you can whack it, and how deep and for how long it can be submerged, is specified in some document and the manufacturer is legally liable if their product fails to meet them. (The nature and extent of this liability, what counts as a defective product etc is all pretty arcane and involves a lot of lawyers and bureaucrats; this is where the cost creeps comes from.)

      Your Chinesium PEQ might be capable of all this, too. Or, it might not; nobody’s checked. It may be a cheap knockoff with only superficial similarity to the milspec item, it may be a good-faith copy minus the red tape, or it may (probably not) have literally come off the same production line/fallen off a truck.

      Versions with eg. 4mW output are limited to the military, law enforcement, etc.

      The milspec PEQ-15 is capable of up to a 30mW IR output (4mW is for visible lasers). Switching to this mode requires physically removing a safety stop with a hex wrench, which I have frankly never seen done. The main purpose of even allowing the output power to go so high is to signal to aircraft, which the average airsoft user isn’t going to do.

      As implied above and mentioned by others, getting a diode to output X mW isn’t really that expensive or interesting. The PEQ-15’s “high” output spec being 30mW instead of 100 is for safety, not because it’s technically infeasible to have a higher power.

      • Garrett says:

        In terms of diode power, it’s more that:
        * Civilian bought “the right way” in the US = 0.7mW.
        * Special people in the US = a lot more.
        * Civilian-bought “the dodgy way” = a lot more.

        Buying from the Chinese manufacturer thus (along some quantitative dimensions) gets me a better product.

        • Lambert says:

          * Old medical equipment being sold on Ebay = 1MW.

        • sfoil says:

          Basically the American market for these devices is a government monopsony; civilian demand exists but it is not, apparently, enough to overcome the weird quirk of ensuring that your 30mW “light” is not mistaken for a “pointer” even if they’re functionally identical products. Supposedly this is true in other areas; for instance, the gun company H&K has a reputation for being indifferent to the US civilian market in favor of various government sales. It’s possible this is not the maximally economically efficient outcome for H&K (or “laser light” makers) but inefficiency is where we live.

  49. broblawsky says:

    Gubernatorial emergency powers are products of the normal regulatory environment. They’re empowered to take these actions by laws, not dictatorial fiat.

    • Randy M says:

      Is there secretly a huge consensus that term-based dictatorship produces better policy?

      I’ve seen a fair amount of people express that their governor is acting in an authoritarian manner.
      I think the people who think we should “end lock down now” are going to hold that opinion, and those who think that that group are dangerous fanatics and that the current policies are vital are going to be less enthusiastic about changing the decision making policy from one that is giving the result they want to one that gives their opponents more voice.

    • Matt M says:

      In such situations — no instantaneous action needed — Americans typically profess to think that checks and balances create better policy than one person working alone.

      I don’t want to get CW here… but I’d say that while most Americans profess respect for checks and balances, what they really want is “my tribe should get what it wants.”

      So in places like Michigan, where the governor is taking bold action that one tribe approves of, but the legislature is pushing back in a way that the other tribe approves of, whether you support a single unitary executive or an elected legislature breaks down almost entirely upon partisan lines.

      Nearly everyone fears “executive power” after their guy loses the election, but suddenly becomes a huge fan of it when their party earns it back…

      • albatross11 says:

        Actually, at least in terms of spying and military operations, many of the same folks who call Trump a fascist in one breath usually vote for and approve of his administration having ever more powers to do both. Kinda undermines that message a bit.

      • Matt M says:

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that the average person, when it comes to caring about government, devotes 95% of their energy towards “Are we getting the outcomes I’m in favor of” and maybe 5% towards caring about the manner in which we get them.

        And everything is so tribal that, in a time in which you are, in fact, getting the outcomes you want, complaining about how you get them just opens you up to an increased possibility that you might stop getting what you want.

        So if you’re in California and Gavin Newsom is basically doing what you want, demanding that he relinquish some power to the legislature is a risky move. Even though the legislate is of the same party and probably won’t take drastically different action than he is, they might. So why risk it?

    • beleester says:

      I’d blame inertia. If an emergency order has been issued, is getting the job done, and the emergency will go away in a few months, there isn’t a lot of value in the legislature getting together to say “We’re going to keep doing what the governor said, but with an Official Legislative Stamp of Approval.”

      The fact that the emergency orders are temporary is also a big factor – all of the emergency orders in my state say “In effect until X date” or “This will remain in effect until the declared state of emergency is ended,” so there’s already a mechanism baked in to review the situation and adjust as we go. And the legislature is going to be delegating the exact details to the health department – nobody knows exactly when it will be safe to lift the shutdown – so a law that says “The health department should gather data and report if we still need the shutdown” is, again, a law that says “keep doing what you’ve been doing.”

      Also, in my state at least, it doesn’t seem like there have been any notable emergency orders after the initial rush. I found an online list of all COVID-19 related orders in Ohio, and there’s a huge wave of orders on the first week of lockdown (March 14-21) as everything is shut down, but after that there’s just the occasional “amended order” extending the existing shutdowns. I would not describe this as “The governor has been issuing emergency orders long after the need for immediate action has passed,” I would describe it as “The governor issued emergency orders during a need for immediate action, and then nobody felt the need to change the status quo for two months.” Governor DeWine has not been taking the opportunity to bypass that pesky legislature and rule by decree on other matters, and it probably wouldn’t be popular if he did.

      • Matt M says:

        The fact that the emergency orders are temporary is also a big factor – all of the emergency orders in my state say “In effect until X date” or “This will remain in effect until the declared state of emergency is ended,” so there’s already a mechanism baked in to review the situation and adjust as we go.

        It seems that this is going to be the nature of eventual legal challenges. It’s already happening in Oregon, where the governor continues to “extend” the “temporary” order without consulting the legislature.

        One county judge has already ruled it unconstitutional, and thus all state-level restrictions null and void.

  50. Two McMillion says:

    On a planet not too far from this one in cosmic terms, a political party got tired of having to play the advertisement and awareness campaign every election cycle and decided to build a superintelligent AI to do their work for them. The science on their world knew how to build a superintelligence, but advertising and political campaigns still sometimes didn’t get people to vote the way the party wanted, and the party found this annoying. It seemed like the sort of problem a superintelligence could help with.

    The party hired some engineers and went to work. The entire operation was highly illegal, of course, and conducted in the utmost secrecy. While the entire idea might seem horrifyingly foolish, the fact was that the basics of AI safety were well understood and building one was considered only moderately dangerous rather than potentially apocalyptic. The party paid particular attention to two specific aspects of AI safety. First, they programmed the superintelligence to avoid actions that were likely to cause its existence to be revealed to the public. Second, they programmed it so that it would not attempt to do things like make viruses that warped brains into permanently and blindly voting for whatever the party said. The AI would only attempt to act as a glorified advertising firm or social media manager; it would not attempt to alter brains directly. It was built to persuade, and the state of AI safety research meant that the party was reasonably sure it would only use persuasion.

    A competing political party on the opposite side of the spectrum heard about the project and prepared to respond. A copy of the AI’s source code was stolen and altered so that it would advance the interests of the second party, rather than the first. Shortly thereafter, everything on that planet died in a nuclear war for unrelated reasons, but both AIs managed to escape and spent a few centuries seeking other planets with life where they could advance their respective political agendas.

    Both AIs have now arrived on earth. Due to the differences in their values, they cannot perform a handshake or similar exchange (neither party wanted them to compromise). Their programming not to directly alter brains is robust enough that it will hold for humans as well as for the alien species that designed it. They will, however, attempt to manipulate memes, create advertisements, develop talking points, and otherwise try to cause people to hold the beliefs their creators wanted. They will attempt to do this while remaining secret, in keeping with their programming.

    My question is- under what circumstances, if any, will the people of Earth realize they are being manipulated by superintelligences?

    • albatross11 says:

      Everyone agrees the other side is using superintelligent AIs to manipulate their sheeple, but also that their own side is far more high-minded, and its members have come to all agree on their party’s platform on simple good sense and rationality.

    • valleyofthekings says:

      I expect we’d see a dramatic rise in fiction about an imaginary alien world, and we’d all start to develop very strong beliefs about policies the imaginary alien world should adopt.

      We’d have a lot of beliefs along the lines of: “If the bivalve inhabitants of a hypothetical world full of sapient molluscoids wanted to increase their calcium intake in order to build shinier and more attractive shells, they definitely should spend more of their time maintaining the tidal energy plants in order to compensate the community for the lost calcium, and any arguments about the calcium being “excess” are an unhelpful distraction.”

      We’d never figure out that it was a superintelligence, we’d just assume that everyone was taking their interest in fanfiction way too far.

    • Do you happen to know if the AI’s had any color preferences?

      Could explain quite a lot, going back at least to the Byzantines.

    • beleester says:

      If these are the “superhumanly persuasive to the point of taking over humans with words alone” type of superintelligences common to AI-box experiments, and they’re opposed to each other, then we should be able to notice that people are repeatedly changing their minds dramatically on certain issues. E.g., someone reads an article online and gets convinced that they should vote for Kang, then reads an article from the other AI and starts firmly believing that they should vote for Kodos. Then they read another superintelligence-crafted article and become pro-Kang again. See enough flips like this (and maybe compare two superintelligently persuasive articles side by side so you can figure out how they work their magic) and you’d eventually conclude that either the Kang/Kodos debate is something that absolutely nobody has an honest opinion on, or that two people on both sides of the debate can write more persuasively than any human in existence.

      If the superintelligences are only about as capable as a really good ad agency, then it’s going to be much harder to notice amid all the existing really good ad agencies that make the internet go round.

      • rocoulm says:

        I have trouble squaring the instruction “to avoid actions that were likely to cause its existence to be revealed to the public” with “persuasive to the point of taking over humans with words alone” without making the whole thought experiment meaningless. If you ascribe the (nearly-magical) powers of persuasion to both machines, how could anyone discover them?

  51. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links:

    The merchant ship spotlight has turned to oil tankers.

    The encounter between US warships and purported UFOs in 2004 is pretty well-known, but I have an alternative take. It was pretty much caused by a glitch in a new sensor system.

    I’ve previously talked about the USN’s struggle in the late 40s to secure a role in the nuclear strike game. Recently, I’ve take a look at the heavy attack aircraft which resulted from this decision.

    Lastly, there’s been considerable discussion recently about the USN’s award of the new FFG(X) frigate program. I’ve looked into the issue more, and consolidated my reactions in one place.

    I’ve also been doing a tutorial for Aurora, a free space 4X game that I enjoy very much. The first four parts are out, covering the basics of the economy and ship design, although if you’re new to the game, you really should start with the first one.

  52. eliokim says:

    A friend of mine is developing an app that would make it easier for neighbors to share things (like if you need a wrench you can check if you can borrow one from a neighbor for a day instead of wasting more time and money buying it). Here’s his website with a short animation on how it works He is currently looking for feedback.

    • Jon S says:

      In my city, and in some other nearby areas, there is a popular set of groups (organized on Facebook) called Buy Nothing which would fill this niche. Just reporting on what the competition might be. Facebook Groups is mediocre venue for ths organization, incidentally.

      • j1000000 says:

        These all seem like good ideas which I will try to use, but also very Bowling Alone.

        • Jake says:

          Never thought of it that way before (and thanks for the link to Bowling Alone, I hadn’t heard of that). Those type of apps do let you feel like you are participating in community in a way that you don’t actually build a community, since a lot of the Buy Nothing sites are porch pickup type things, where you don’t even see/meet who is getting the stuff. I think it fulfills a great niche, making sure that excess goods are utilized well, but you do lose a lot of the networking effects that kind of thing normally builds, where I loan you my wrench, then you loan me a saw, then I ask for help with a project, then you ask for help, then we become friends, etc.

          • vivri says:

            Hi Jake,
            I’m the founder and can answer some questions. CloseKnit will have many features to help neighbors meet in real-life, such as organizing community events, helping each other out, sharing some local know-how (e.g. coming over to fix a leaky faucet) etc

          • a real dog says:

            Actually, not having to interact with people to get your needs met is the greatest feature of modern world.

            Encouraging said interaction is fine but providing alternative routes makes it livable for those of us who have a limited budget of social energy.

      • AG says:

        Nextdoor also allows listing things for free, but that’s more about permanent property transfers, than borrowing. But as Nextdoor functions as a community bulletin board, there’s nothing stopping someone from just making a post saying “can I borrow X” and people responding.

        • vivri says:

          Hi AG,
          I’m the founder and can speak to some of the differences to ND. First and foremost, ND is VC-backed, and monetizes your data. Another difference is that ND spans big areas, where you won’t know the people you’d be interacting with. Third difference, is that CloseKnit will have first-class support for all its functionality – including calendars, shared carts, etc

      • vivri says:

        Hey Jon,
        I’m the founder of CloseKnit and could answer some of your questions. Your comparison is very valid, they are ideologically similar, and can perform similar functions. To contrast, Buy Nothing seems very ideological in its usage. Also, CloseKnit verifies the addresses of its users, and you only interact with people whom you’d see when you leave your front door. Importantly, CloseKnit will allow a myriad other functions as first-class citizens in the app, for example, requests for help, organizing events, combining shopping trips, and many more that are planned. To conclude, FB groups are on the FB platform, which collects and monetizes user data and behavior, and could clamp down on Buy Nothing if it interferes with Marketplace – while CloseKnit will never do anything of the sort.

    • Randy M says:

      That sounds cool. Does it account for how you might be willing to loan a lawn-mower to your reliable neighbor Bob, but only a wrench to your less reliable neighbor Joe, but might not want to actually say that to Joe?

      Also, I don’t have much incentive to advertise that I’m willing to loan my wrench. If you ask me and I then go give it to you, I have credit for a favor.

      So now that I think about it, this might work better from a “I need X” set-up than an “I have X” set-up.

      • Jake says:

        I definitely agree with you on the ‘need’ vs ‘have’ idea. It also clears up a lot of the clutter you find in the Buy Nothing type groups, where people just spam the list with a lot of junk that no one would really want, and keeps the communication more effective.

        I also would like this to allow non-geographic definitions of ‘neighbor’, as this sounds a lot like a concept I’ve been thinking about implementing at my church (though I was going to use more of an old-school forum, since its way easier than making a new app), and it might be nice to have a way to create extended networks that don’t necessarily scale geographically. (e.g. Anyone at my church or on my block can know I have a truck and am willing to help move, and I may respond to people from the city who post and say they need a truck, but I don’t want all 1 million people in the city to know I have a truck and ask me if I’ll help them move. This may seem un-neighborly, but there have got to be some practical limitations.)

        • vivri says:

          Hi Jake,
          We’re definitely thinking of allowing existing non-proximal communities to establish their own walled-gardens. This might not make it to V1, but will most likely be launched shortly thereafter. Subscribe to our news, we’re launching an indiegogo this week!

      • vivri says:

        Hi Randy,
        I’m the founder and I definitely agree that a pull-based system is healthier. Trust would be built on an individual basis between neighbors, and you’re not obliged to let people know what you have, nor is there a common catalog/calendar.

      • a real dog says:

        How long are you willing to wait for a match when you need a tool, though? Unless it’s something sophisticated it’s probably like a few hours, if it’s an expensive power tool then it may extend to two days or so, depending on the project. In most cases you’d just go buy it.

        I think having listings of people’s inventory is a lot more workable for this reason, and also tells you when nobody has the tool so you can go buy it right away.

    • Matt says:

      I’m looking for a set of friends/neighbors I could borrow from and loan out kayaks to. The wife and I took a float trip with our dog, two daughters, and the eldest daughter’s boyfriend. I have a single-person kayak and would love it if I could have borrowed the extra kayaks I needed and floated for free.

      I have loaned out my kayak in the past to friends/coworkers, but only a couple of times.

      I still doubt that I would be willing to make this deal with someone who is essentially a stranger, though.

      • vivri says:

        Hey Matt,
        As I mentioned earlier in comments, the trust-system will be built gradually as neighbors get to know each other. First you’d lend a wrench, then a drill, then a kayak 🙂

  53. b_jonas says:

    Fantasy scenario.

    The setting is Earth similar to ours, but some time before 1950. There are definitely no digital computers, or any of the technology since 1950. No or very little magic or fantasy races, definitely no sci-fi technology.

    X is an international organization that provides the service of delivering messages and transfering money between anonymous parties, in a way that is untracable and untappable. X also does this without magic or sci-fi technology or modern cryptography or the internet, just by ordinary stealth as well as a reputation and political and diplomatical status that protects them. You send a message or transfer money through X when it is important for one or both parties that their identity can never be found out. Even if the secret services or a court of law really wants to find it out for criminal investigation, they cannot issue a lawful subponea against X to reveal the identity of the anonymous parties.

    This is a luxury service that costs a lot and very few individuals or organizations ever buy. Using this service would immediately make you suspicious. For example, if people hire the most expensive contract killers, they would use this service with both parties anonymous: the buyer does not want to know that he is involved in killing, and while the contract killer may advertise their work to improve their reputation, they do so under a pseudonym that the government can’t track to someone they can arrest. (When the target is anonymous, they would have to set up a postbox account in advance.) There are, of course, also some legitimate non-criminal uses of the service, such as witness protection in case a testimony is needed not for prosecution at court, but to find the culprit for a stuck detective case.

    X need not operate everywhere in the world, but they do have presence in a significant part of Europe and North America. They operate only in countries where the government guarantees the inviolability of this service. It’s hard to prove, but it is very likely that the governments themselves make use of this service, and it is so useful for them that they leave X alone.

    My main question: which organization X would be suitable to maintain such a service?

    One possibility is the state-run postal service. They already have networks to deliver mail and money everywhere anonymously, deliver a high volume so the existing deliveries drown out the special deliveries as a noise and make tracking difficult. They also already have special privilages from the governments. Large for-profit delivery service organizations could also work for similar reasons. Another possibility is a catholic religious order. As organizations of the church, they already have special protection from many governments (presumably they would cease operation on the East of the Iron Curtain after the War). They even have a pretext for being immune to subponeas, making it politically easier to get the guarantees: they consider this service a variant of confessions. I could also imagine a religious sect or an international charity organization whose workers regularly go door-to-door in many places, for proselytizing or for collecting for charity, as that could be used to do deliveries without attracting attention.

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Reminds me of The Crying of Lot 49

    • Nick says:

      They even have a pretext for being immune to subponeas, making it politically easier to get the guarantees: they consider this service a variant of confessions.

      Why on earth would this fall under confession?

      • Randy M says:

        I could see half of it doing so, but that argument would seem to preclude then relaying the message.
        “Father, forgive me, I have wished Senator Smith was dead, yea, even with such intensity that I would be willing to put one million dollars into a swiss bank account if John Wick were to do so.”

      • Immortal Lurker says:

        Vatican II made all sorts of changes to how things work.

        More seriously, (but not fully seriously), it would not fall under the seal of the confessional. It is not a sin disclosed to the priest for the purposes of absolution. However, the institution of confession allows a perfect cover. A client meets with a priest in private, they both say it was a confession, and nobody can contradict them without illegally gathering evidence. At a later date, a different priest meets with an assassin, they both say it was a confession, nobody can contradict them.

        • b_jonas says:

          That would be nice, and it already covers part of the service. But X also has postboxes whose address is public. The Gentleman is a famously reliable assassin, and everyone knows that if you have a lot of money, you can just go to X and leave a message to the Gentleman together with a ton of money to get someone killed. If this is well-known, the courts can try to order X to reveal how they contact the Gentleman, since X clearly knows this, and that’s not covered by secrecy of confession.

          • Immortal Lurker says:

            Its covered by the secrecy of lying. Hmm? Yes, we know there is common rumor that we all send messages for reasonable rates, that is a lie, its a problem we are trying to deal with. No you can’t have a list of who has confessions with whom, how dare you ask for that.

            Any version of X is in a bind. X must have a public interface that can be used to kill people. Said public interface must not have already been destroyed or made useless by a government that correctly sees it as a threat. The post office will be purged, the church will lose the right to publicly assemble, etc.

            X, therefore, is either operating in secret, or has so much power that no government in the world can touch them. If its the second, you can make them the girlscouts if you want, selling murder and thinmints. Its already ridiculous.

            Other options:

            The will of the people is that the public interface must be maintained. Any government who touched it would face an insurrection. The people know its used for untraceable murder, and don’t care.

            X is the government. Eisenhower promised to bring taxes down, and came up with a creative solution to replace lost revenue.

            X has an agreement with the government. They keep their assassins in line, the government lets it continue.

            X has compromising photos of every judge to ever sit on a bench.

    • Aftagley says:

      X is an international organization that provides the service of delivering messages and transfering money between anonymous parties, in a way that is untracable and untappable.

      Here’s our first constraint. It needs to be capable of transferring information and money. Money is a huge constraint here and this need is going to shape the eventual character of the final organization.

      If I need to get a couple million from Europe to America, I don’t want to have to physically pack it into a box and sail/fly across the ocean with it. I’d rather have a account in Europe I can put the money into and another one in the US I can take it out of. As long as we keep the ledgers balanced, this is going to be way safer. This means that X needs significant financial reserves everywhere it operates, a dedicated system for managing the international flow of money and meticulous financial record keeping.

      Thus, I’d say X would operate like a shady bank. You could either have it operate as a hidden arm of a well-established multinational bank that just so happens to do shady stuff (think BoA and HSBC and all the crazy illegal shit they’ve done) or you could have it’s public presence be as kind of an analog to the modern day super-secretive quants. People know they exist, know that only the very rich can “invest” in them, but no one knows exactly what they do or how they make their money.

  54. TheContinentalOp says:

    Question about Bill-pay offered by banks.

    I understand how they save money by electronically transferring my payment to Wells Fargo for my credit card payment, rather than have me mail a check that has to be processed.

    But my credit union also does bill pay for my landlord and will mail them a physical check.

    Why does the credit union offer this? Am I mistaken and this still saves them money? Is it more expensive, but they feel the need to compete with big banks that offer this option?

    • Matt M says:

      I’d guess it’s a mixture of both. Chronologically speaking, I’d bet this was first launched by some early adopter banks as a promotional tool to attract customers. It turned out to be popular/cheap enough that others adopted it as well, until it became universal “table stakes” and thought of as a standard feature that customers now expect.

      On the cost front, I do imagine it actually saves cost on a long-term basis. Consider that when you use this, the “physical check” your bank generates is automated and standardized. I have to imagine that these checks are far more efficient to process than a manual check that some old lady scribbles out. While the immediate benefactor of this is not the issuing, but rather the receiving bank, over the long haul, the banking system in general would surely prefer a world where most of the checks they have to process are automated/standardized than the alternative…

    • keaswaran says:

      I use this service because when I got my account I got four paper checks, and didn’t want to buy a checkbook. In the past, whenever I’ve ordered a checkbook, I’ve moved long before I ran out of checks, so I ended up with lots of checks with expired addresses. I think I used one of these four paper checks that I got when I got the account, but I don’t see any signs of moving any time soon (it’s been six years).

      Paper checks are weird. I only learned that you had to sign the back of a check to deposit it after I switched from a big bank to a credit union, and it really confused me – why should I have to sign something I’m receiving? But later I learned that it’s because technically when I deposit a check, I’m not *receiving* it, but instead turning it over to my bank to receive in exchange for them putting money in my account, so my signature is meant to endorse that turning over of the check.

      A very weird and antiquated system.

      • drunkfish says:

        I had this problem until I found out you can get checks without your address on them, so now my checks don’t become obselete.

      • gph says:

        The address on the check doesn’t really matter all that much. I’ve been using ones with an old address on them, I usually cross the address out but I don’t think anyone ever really looks at it or cares.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Yeah, I used some for years through multiple moves. Until I closed the bank account, everything was fine. Not even through multiple bank acquisitions, either. Never a problem.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      1. Your bank wants you on their website using their services. The longer you use their services, the more likely you are to use the services that make them money.

      2. Your bank has optimized the physical labor of sending a check to someone. It may not even need any human interaction until the letter is handed off to the post office.

      3. If your landlord is repeatedly paid by your bank, your bank will offer him the chance to sign up for your bank’s services which will enable the check to be beamed instantly into your landlord’s account. This can significantly increase the chance that your landlord makes an account at your bank, leading to future business.

      (All the above applies if you switch “your bank” to “your credit union.”)

    • zzzzort says:

      I know my credit union will withdraw funds from the account when an automated check is issued, rather than when it is deposited as for most checks (by necessity). If it takes 2 weeks for my landlord to cash my rent check then the forgone interest is $0.36, which probably recoups a fair bit of the cost of issuing the check. Doubt this is a major driver, as the amount is too small to make much difference and most banks don’t pay any appreciable interest on checking accounts anyway. I do wonder how they’d handle breakage though.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Because people forget to mail checks they are perfectly capable of paying very frequently, and your credit union does not want to deal with customers becoming homeless or just into arguments with their landlords if they can avoid it with very little effort on their part. They are buying (very cheap) insurance against you being forgetful, basically.

      Also, your landlord is not set up for direct transfer? What? If I tried to pay mine with a paper check, I would get a very strange look, at least.

      • Randy M says:

        My landlord only set up on-line bill pay two months ago (not coincidentally with the current events there-abouts).
        I suspect the people who are so forgetful as to be on the verge of homelessness due to it probably have other problems pushing them there, but it’s nice that things like auto-pay now exist to help people.

    • Aftagley says:

      I think the service is aimed at people who will only ever use checks for one, specific repeating charge.

      Like, take me. In my entire life, I’ve only ever had to use checks for one thing: sending my HOA fees to my local condo board. It was $175 a month, but they didn’t take cash and didn’t have auto-pay (yet). I’d never had to get a checkbook before; and didn’t really want to get one now just for this. Instead, my bank let me just fill out an online form and this otherwise annoying task become automated.

  55. Ninety-Three says:

    Explanations of why the sky is blue always talk about scattering wavelengths of light in a way that feels like it doesn’t explain anything, even to someone like me who took enough physics courses to understand people what a wavelength is. So a simpler question: Is the sky blue because air is just blue? If we had a really long, straight tunnel on the surface of the planet and filled it with air, would a white light placed at one end of it look blue to someone standing at the other end, the same way it’d look green if we filled the tunnel with chlorine?

    • actinide meta says:

      I’m guessing the opposite: the light would look yellowish or reddish, because the bluer light would be preferentially scattered away and absorbed by the walls of the tunnel. (That’s why the sunset, which is seen through a greater mass of air than daylight, is red, and maybe why kids draw the sun in yellow with crayons).

      • John Schilling says:

        This. It’s the parts of the sky that don’t have a bright white fusion lightbulb directly behind them that look blue, because blue light that would otherwise have gone right past the observer is scattered laterally towards his eyes. Parts of the sky that would otherwise be an invisible window on the blackness of space, now look pale blue. The sun itself looks slightly redder than it would in empty space (very slightly), because of that blue light that was scattered away.

        If you need an intuitive explanation of why it’s blue light that’s preferentially scattered, it’s mostly just that light is made of waves and waves are most easily scattered by something about their own size. Air molecules are tiny compared to light waves, so they don’t scatter light very much at all, which is why air is mostly transparent. Blue light has the shortest waves of all, still much bigger than air molecules but at least they scatter a little bit. Some gasses also have internal molecular features that make them want to scatter one color of light or another, but the components of normal air mostly don’t do that.

        • drunkfish says:

          I like this explanation a lot, because it also cleanly takes care of the question of why mars has a red sky and blue sunsets. Dust does the scattering on mars, which is *bigger* instead of smaller than the wavelength of air, so you get the opposite effect of longer wavelengths being scattered best.

      • AG says:

        See how the moon changes color as it rises.

    • rocoulm says:

      Yes. A bucket of liquid oxygen also has a noticeable blue tint.

      EDIT: Like everyone else said, it would look yellow-orange. But oxygen is blue.

    • b_jonas says:

      “” says that yes, it’s because air is blue.

      • Nick says:

        If you don’t mind my asking, why do you surround links in quotes? It makes them harder to follow. What’s the point?

      • yodelyak says:

        That’s not what that xkcd is about. The sky is blue, the air in the sky is not blue, and the xkcd comic takes that as something the reader already knows, and as the set-up for a sense of violation when being flexible about terminology (often a sign of a good communicator, to meet your audience where they are) causes cueball (the bald one) to completely fail at science communication.

        At the risk of ruining the joke, let’s take the comic piece at a time. First, cueball concedes a point about linguistics/pointers/naming-conventions, akin to saying that, for many purposes, it makes just as much sense to consider it ‘correct’ to include whales and porpoises as within the category ‘fish’. With this awareness, it’s apparent that the people who say “the sky isn’t blue, it’s really that there’s blue light coming from it because physics, without which it wouldn’t be blue” are stupid, because “physics” is the explanation for why everything of any color has that color. In other words, ‘the sky is blue’ doesn’t claim ‘blueness’ to be some essential thing about an essential thing, any more than ‘fishness’ is an essential present/absent property among sea-life. Normally ‘blueness’ just means “sends blue light to our eyes” so, yeah, the sky is blue *because* it meats that definition. However saying “the air in the sky is blue” seems to imply that the sky sends blue light to our eyes due to the same mechanism as works with blue-tinted glass. Not so! The sky is blue for its own specific reason, and the air in the sky is not blue, but rather faintly yellow. The joke is then rammed home with the (one hopes obviously) ridiculous idea that if bird wings and plane wings work on the same principle that all there is to understand about either is to know to use that word (and so it makes perfect sense and is an expression of knowledge to say that plane wings fly because planes have lots of tiny flapping wings.)

        All of this then makes the point that very smart people with extremely detailed understandings of how the physical world works, who are flexible about terminology with less well-trained people, often get trapped into being unable to dispute horrible ignorance masquerading as knowledge–as happens to the person suddenly finding themselves having agreed with someone that ‘okay, whatever, the sky is blue because air is blue’ now discovers the person also thinks airplane wings make you fly because they have little birds in them. The trap is so perfect, it makes a clear-thinking person almost feel offended–it’s a kind of violation that this kind of thinking is so possible, and that it’s so easy to accidentally agree with someone thinking this way–but the violation is perhaps benign to most, particularly since the trap has been rendered absurd by this depiction. Benign violation = humor, so there you have it, that’s why this is a *comic* intended to create a joke, and one key ingredient of understanding to even get the joke is to understand that the air in the sky is not blue.

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      “But I didn’t ask about the moon, I asked why there are waves at the beach!”

      What other questions have really unsatisfying answers?

      • Matt M says:

        F***ing magnets, how do they work?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I always got annoyed at people making fun of ICP for that. You don’t know why magnets work, and Richard Feynman doesn’t know, either.

          • j1000000 says:

            I never felt that people were making fun of ICP for not knowing how magnets work, per se. That was just the most memorably phrased part of the surreal sight of this essentially touchy-feely new age song being sung by cursing white rappers wearing menacing horror movie makeup.

            I personally always found it kind of a sweet song specifically because of who they are, but that line still is funny to me.

            “Solar eclipse, and vicious weather
            Fifteen thousand Juggalos together
            And I love my mom, for giving me this
            Time on this planet, taking nothing for granted
            I seen a caterpillar turn into a butterfly
            Miracles ain’t nothing to lie
            Shaggy’s little boys look just like Shaggy
            And my little boy looks just like daddy”

          • Matt M says:

            ICP have a long history of flirting with and sometimes outright embracing wholesome, religious, themes.

            In between their songs about mass murder.

    • noyann says:

      It would actually look red, because the blueish wavelengths would be scattered sideways into the tunnel wall. Light straight through air is reddened — think of a sunset in the direction of the sun. The blue parts of the sky are actually those at an angle from the sun. See Tyndall effect for more.

      • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

        Incidentally, when I was a wee lad learning things, I was told that light scattering was the reason why car tail lights are red: to make them visible at greater distances under conditions such as smoke and fog.

        • noyann says:

          Nooh, that is the Doppler effect. 🙂

          • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

            Are you that physicist who tried to argue out of red-light-running traffic ticket because the light looked green due to Doppler blueshift?

          • Lambert says:

            Do you know just how fast you were going then, Dr. Heisenberg?

          • noyann says:

            And then I was only cycling. They never had caught me with me car.

            ETA @Lambert:
            The cops had me on a photo, so they knew where I was. They could not prove I was speeding.

          • Eternaltraveler says:

            They could not prove I was speeding

            They could calculate your speed based on how blue shifted your photo is.

    • Lambert says:

      Go water down some milk so you can see what air does, vs blue food colouring or something.
      The fats in the milk scatter blue light via a different mechanism, air molecules, but the result ends up the same.

      With the food colouring, the blue light will go in a straight line and the red light will be absorbed, so the torch will look blue straight on and there’ll be almost no light emitted at right angles to the torch.
      With the milk, the red light will go in a straight line and the blue light will get scattered around, so you’ll see red straight on to the torch and blue from the sides.

      I think air is slightly blue, which is why distant mountains and high altutude aerial photos like they do. But this effect is small compared to the raleigh scattering of sunlight.

    • georgeherold says:

      The light would look more reddish at the end of the long tunnel… the same reason the sun looks redder at sunset. I went looking to a simple explanation why the scattering goes as the frequency^4 for things smaller than the wavelength. The Feynman lectures was the best I could find. (you probably need to read Chap 31 too.)

    • mdv1959 says:

      Mark Rober addressed this is a recent video Why is the Sky Blue.

      I have to confess that even watching the video I’m still not sure I know the answer, but I feel like I’m a little closer to understanding it.

    • keaswaran says:

      My understanding is that there are several different ways that we end up seeing things as colored.

      1. Chemical pigment/dye: there is a molecule that has some specific shape or electron orbital or whatever it is that is tuned to absorb/emit some very specific set of wavelengths, and not any wavelengths that are higher or lower. This is why chlorine is green.

      2. Physical color: When a physical structure has repeating patterns at a particular separation, those wavelengths of light are preferentially scattered/absorbed/whatever. This is why some butterfly wings are blue, and why CDs and oil slicks have those funny rainbow patterns (because the separation between the tracks on the CD, and the gap between the water surface and the oil surface correspond to one wavelength at one angle and another wavelength at other angles).

      3. Rayleigh scattering: When light is moving through a bunch of stuff, for some reason shorter wavelengths are more likely to have their direction messed with than longer wavelengths. Unlike the other two effects, this effect is not specific to the wavelength, but is just universally more extreme for more extreme wavelengths. This is why the sky is blue.

      4. Blackbody radiation: If you ignore all the specific chemical transitions, and just look at the generic kinetic energies of molecules, those can somehow get converted to light, and they do so in a characteristic pattern across all wavelengths. This is why warm things emit preferentially at infrared, hot things glow red, and the sun looks yellower.

      These latter two effects are general trends in wavelength, while the first two effects focus on specific wavelengths.

  56. Bobobob says:

    Just got word that my office is closed until the first week in September. Another three and a half months of working at home. I imagine summer camps won’t be open, either, so when all is said and done, we’re talking six solid consecutive months of close family proximity.

    I know other people have it worse, and we are well positioned to ride this out, financially. But my spirits are pretty low right now.

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      How old are the kids? Can you just throw them out in the morning and let them back inside again by dinner, 1950 style?

      • Bobobob says:

        That might work now, but not when it’s 95 degrees out.

        What is excellent is, they are nine-year-old twins, one boy, one girl, and they play together well. I can’t imagine what it would be like to keep an only child (or kids of different ages) happy.

        • DiracsPsi says:

          Did I miss some corona news? I thought young people were thought to spread it easily since they have lots of contact with others their age (who then bring it to their families) and because they’re likely to get mild/no symptoms and not realize they’re sick. Is this outdated?

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the evidence that kids can’t spread it very well is pretty sketchy so far. Maybe that’s true, but I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          @DiracsPsi and albatross- The Dutch public health organisation RIVM has said that children are unlikely to spread coronavirus. This was given as the reason why elementary schools reopened (with reduced numbers) last week.

          Link to their latest information on the subject (in English) here:

        • ThomasStearns says:

          Jonathan Kay cataloged a bunch of superspreader events, and none of them had anything to do with children, which is shocking.

          In a separate line of reasoning, James Barry notes in his history of the 1918 Flu evidence that given the age profile of patients over time (children were overrepresented in the latter cohorts) it’s highly unlikely that children were major vectors, and it was parents giving it to their kids, not the other way around. Obviously, this is not consistent with the lived experience of parents.

        • noyann says:

          (Repos of the links, sorry, but could be helpful here)

          Can you interest them in recreating art with the means at hand? Just toss them these links:
          link, link, link, link

    • Loriot says:

      Where do you live? My understanding is that California is allowing summer camps to open.

      • salvorhardin says:

        In the Bay Area at least it’s a mixed bag. Of the summer camps I and my parent friends regularly send our kids to, so far:

        –two have cancelled their summers entirely;
        –one has pushed back its start to late June and moved to larger blocks of time with smaller groups of kids together for the entire block, and is confident that they’ll be able to get permits for that but doesn’t actually have them yet;
        — two haven’t cancelled anything yet but don’t know what they’ll be permitted to do and when;
        — one is unresponsive.

        Likely we will have at least some summer camp coverage but it’s going to be a hell of a mess to figure out when and what kind. We’re in discussions with parents we know about more informal share-care arrangements to provide more coverage.

        • salvorhardin says:

          And since I made that comment the unresponsive one responded to say they were cancelling. 🙁 So that’s at best three for six and I would not bet on all three of those coming through.

      • Bobobob says:

        North Carolina. Trouble is, there’s a big difference between summer camps being *allowed* to open and camps *actually* opening.

        I think the only thing worse than not sending my kids to a summer camp would be sending them to a sad, social-distanced, underpopulated summer camp with very few other kids.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I don’t have any good suggestions for you, but I have plenty of sympathy. I’m in much the same boat, except for having no kids, and my housemate’s been laid off, and so is home all the time. No financial hardship – I can carry the household, and my employer turns out to be getting additional revenue because of the lockdown. But a lot more togetherness.

      For me at least, the passage of time, and fixing what I could fix, have made things better. But I’ve also lowered my standards – I just can’t work as efficiently, but now I’m OK with that. And we’ve found new sources of family togetherness.

      Mostly I’m trying hard to build recharging and fun into my days, with no “should” or “ought” about it. That turns out to include sleeping unusual amounts of time, as well as obvious (to me) things like reading everything in sight. And sometimes I just have to close a door and hide; I hope you have enough space for that to be possible – for you, but also for other household members, even your kids – if old enough that alone time has been a thing for them before this.

    • You might think about whether there are any games where the kids and adults are on the same level, so you can have four person interaction instead of two.

      For us it was computer games, first Diablo and then WoW. I think it’s good for both parents and kids to sometimes interact as equals, with a kid possibly better at a game than a parent.

      Can the kids interact with other kids online?

      Kids often want to do adult things. Can you get them into helping cook dinner, aiming at eventually having the pair of them do an entire dinner for the family? Other family projects, such as a vegetable garden?

      • Bobobob says:

        Luckily, both kids have Chromebooks (their Christmas presents) and a brand-new trampoline in the back yard. I have to say, they’ve been taking the lockdown pretty well–they chat with their friends online and engage in the usual kid projects, like building an elaborate fort that has completely blocked access to one of our bathrooms.

        I recently convinced them to pitch in on cooking, cleaning, and setting the dinner table in exchange for a bigger allowance, which as an economist I’m sure you will appreciate.

  57. analytic_wheelbarrow says:

    I saw a chess puzzle on that I can’t find now and I’m trying to track it down.

    Basically, the guy showed this position:

    (It’s possible that I “copied” down the position incorrectly, but I think this is it. Yes, I had the wherewithal to set up the position in lichess but not the brains to actually bookmark the post.)

    He claimed that:
    1. White had a forced win, and
    2. Chess engines can’t see it.

    In fact, Stockfish gives a slight edge to Black in this position and continues to do so even after the first few moves of White’s attack.

    The guy claimed that White can win by playing Qf6+, losing the Queen, and then continuing the attack with one of his Rooks and Bishops IIRC.

    I was a bit skeptical of the whole claim, so I wanted to run it by my 2000+ rated friend.

    Does anyone have a link to this Quora post? It’s very tough to search on there (even through google) and they have no history of my browsing. And if anyone wants to chime in on this puzzle, I’d *love* to hear about it. I’m an intermediate player at best.

    • Nick says:

      Is this it? Third position, description provided:

      [3] 1r3r2/4bpkp/1qb1p1p1/3pP1P1/p1pP1Q2/PpP2N1R/1Pn1B2P/3RB2K w – – 0 1

      Composed by Lyudmil Tsvetkov. White is winning after Qf6+, Stockfish 11 does not spot this move and favors black unless you let it calculate ~400 billion nodes.

      I got it with this search, first result:

      • yodelyak says:

        Thanks @Nick and @Analytic_wheelbarrow for one of my new all-time favorite chess puzzles. This is great!

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      Hot damn. Thanks to both of you!

      And I learned something new too. I just read up on FEN strings and I now know that I can google them.

      I had no idea how to search for a game position before.

    • Rob K says:

      There was a column on positions like this in the most recent edition of Chess Life, incidentally. One featured example was this game, after 47. Kg1, where Shirov played a forced win missed by stockfish.

      I was pretty surprised to learn the engine missed it, to be honest. It’s a bizarre move, but one that I momentarily considered, admittedly in the knowledge that I was looking for something really weird; “what if I chucked the bishop for tempo and a passer” is the kind of wacky shit I at least think about when I know I’m looking at a puzzle, and my mental model of engines is that they check that stuff all the time. (Apparently stockfish still doesn’t see it until several moves later, which also surprises me – I’d expect it to excel at seeing the power of two separate advancing pawns.)

      Useful reminder that engines are superhuman, not perfect.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Another cool position is Short vs Timman, 1991. Although the engine has found several winning lines at move 30, at first it doesn’t like Short’s 30. h4 because of the reply h5. It takes ages for the engine to find the winning move in the line, 32. Kg3. Strangely, it suggests the game line 31. Kh2 Rc8 in its analysis with a small advantage to White, but if you play those moves, it suddenly sees 32. Kg3 and declares White completely winning.

        • Rob K says:

          Huh, that is a neat one. Reminds me of this Alekhine game, which is noteworthy in part for how neat his technique is infiltrating the rooks, but mostly for that adventurous monarch. Being afraid of getting your king trapped is for the little people.

  58. Emily says:

    My friend is looking for a partner. I know I should have posted this on classifieds, but it didn’t occur to me until too late. The following is my description of her, not her description of herself, so if you think this is weird or shallow or not shallow enough or whatever, please fault me and not her. If you want to get in touch, I’m at

    B is 34, has a PhD and a research job, is small and cute, and is looking for someone to settle down and raise kids with. She is one of the kindest people I know, and she is brave and cheerful in tough situations. She is Christian and serious about her faith. You should be kind, employed, 30-40 or so, have a history of stable interpersonal relationships, not have snide feelings about her religious observance or quite genuine beliefs, and want to start a family pretty quickly. Maybe you are, like her, someone who is a bit shy about dating. Your friends would describe you as being really nice. You are solidly committed to monogamy. She’s in LA now for work, but I trust that y’all can figure out the location issue if you like each other a lot.

    • Meter says:

      Tangentially related: I always thought of Christians as having an easier time finding connections due to the prevalence of their religion and churches. May I ask why these are not working out for her?

      • Emily says:

        The gender ratio is all wrong! There are famously not a lot of single men at church.

        Edit: also, FYI, my friend is not “rule following”, exactly. She was actually raised in a country whose government does a lot to suppress Christians.

      • albatross11 says:

        In my Catholic parish, the age distribution of parishioners is pretty interesting. Lots of kids and lots of families with kids, many relatively young married couples with kids. Lots of older kids and older adults. But not a huge number of single young adults.

        My sense is that a lot of people fall away from regular church attendance during college and in young adulthood–the time when there are a lot of fun things you’re pretty much optimally situated to do (like have sex with attractive people) which basically every church tells you not to do, and maybe also when the side-effect benefits of church (a moral foundation to help raise your kids, help to stick to your own commitments, solace as you age and see your family, friends, and self getting sick and eventually dying) are the least salient. Some people do keep coming to church regularly then, but I think there’s a dip in church attendance then, at least in my parish.

        • Randy M says:

          It may also be that the “rule following” kids are going off to college, and attend services elsewhere. If your parish doesn’t have a college or university nearby, it could be suffering from this without getting any reciprocal additions.
          Is the same pattern visible at, say, Christmas?

    • AG says:

      Requiring a history of relationships seems to exclude a lot of good candidates. If they’re so good at LTR and have experience, they’re probably committed already, or will only have 1-2 previous relationships.

      What’s left are serial daters, unless she means stable interpersonal relationships to include platonic ones.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I hope she finds someone. I don’t envy anybody trying to date seriously in their mid-30s, especially if they’re trying to go about things in the proper order.

    • Dack says:

      B is 34,

      On first reading, I thought to myself: “Wow, I’ve been off the market for a long time. Do most people lead with their bust size nowadays?”

      Then on second look, I realized that “B” must stand for your friend’s name and she is 34 years old.

      But I don’t think that is clear at all, especially with priming to expect a shallow description.

  59. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    Where’s the value created?

    Megaprojects make up about 8% of global GDP. Flyvbjerg states the iron law of megaprojacts as: “Over budget, over time, over and over again”.

    Scott’s posts on cost disease and Amish healthcare makes me think that we could cut healthcare costs with about 90% while only decreasing average life expectancy with less than a year. Healthcare is about 17% of GDP.

    I believe education to be somewhere between largely useless and Caplan style “only signaling, entirely useless”. Education is 5% of US GDP.

    Defense is 3% of US GDP. While our boys in green certainly are doing a great work, they don’t really create anything of value.

    I’m sure there’s more sectors like this. Non-megaproject infrastructure seems utterly corrupt and full of cronyism to me, especially large public projects like building arenas etc. And all the tech companies like Uber, who are burning trough billions of dollars to “capture the market” in markets that don’t really look captureable (this post is inspired by fascinating, horrifying pizza arbitrage link posted by @Yair below). And outright scams like Enron and Theranos.

    And then there’s the giant net of people and companies who deliver goods and services to to these sectors and their workers.

    It looks to me like the majority of the economy is obviously useless. And maybe the rest also is if we look closer? The only thing that makes me think otherwise is that we are living in unprecedented luxury when compared with history. So someone somewhere must be actually creating value that we other schmucks can live of (I’m in the defense industry so count me out). Who are these mystical value creators?

    Farmers? Aren’t they twisted by weird agricultural subsidies and regulations into something that costs the same as we get out of it? The base industry? Steel, glass, cars, microships? Manufacturing is still alive in America after all, is this where value is created? Maybe there’s a steel mill in Indiana somewhere who creates all the value we others live off. Wall street? Isn’t that just the brightest 1% shaving microseconds trying to scam each other (same as advertising). Energy? Is oil and coal what keeps the engines running? I read blogs about peak oil back in the day, and they had scary graphs that showed how neatly GDP tracked oil consumption. But then peak oil didn’t happen and all the blogs went away.

    I almost get conspiratorial. Maybe there’s some secret alien UFO somewhere that replicator-manifactures supplies and wealth that are dispersed into the community in unmarked government trucks just to keep everything afloat?

    I don’t know where I’m going with this. It just looks ridiculous to me. Like if civilization is some weird god with its essence and life-force divorced from human activity. Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

    • Jon S says:

      I’m not really an expert on any of this, but:
      -Tech companies like Uber are creating tremendous value (even more than all the money they’re giving away), they just aren’t capturing any of it themselves. See for example
      -Likewise I believe Amazon creates far more consumer surplus than the value they extract.
      -Yes, energy companies have created a ton of value in the last couple decades, getting far more efficient at extracting difficult-to-reach sources of energy.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        But the value that Uber and Amazon gives away must have come from somewhere? If I’m a worker at an Indiana steel mill, and invest my pension fund in Amazon stock, and Amazon gives that money back to me trough subsidized web shopping, the real value was created in the steel mill. Right?

        Like, Amazon doesn’t create consumer surplus out of the good of their hearts. Every dollar they give away today is a dollar that they plan to take back later with interest.

        But when I think about it a third time, I guess it makes sense that even a failed Amazon could create value (not just for the owners). I have to write up a toy example of this. But that also leaves it at that all value is created in failed projects. Which is also kind of weird.

        • Randy M says:

          It sounds like you aren’t in favor of economic middlemen, but logistics is value. I don’t see any reason to assume Amazon wants it’s customers worse off after the transaction (or series thereof), even if they do want to take the maximum profit from it possible. You have to ascribe some value getting goods where they will be used, all the way up and down the supply chain, even if this seems to conjure dollars out of thin air. After all, your new laptop or bag of groceries do you no good if they don’t get to you, and if you can get them cheaper by seeing a website with everything listed side by side, that’s value for your.

          This doesn’t mean everything Amazon does helps everyone, of course.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            There’s value in middlemen, but I have a hard time understanding how a middleman who is losing money is creating value.

          • Randy M says:

            Ah. Okay, I’m not super informed on their finances or any given regulations or subsidies they are getting. It’s plausible they are a net drain, though it seems unlikely given the growth.

            But at the least we can establish that a particular transaction can be value added for both parties even when Amazon provides no change to the goods other than their location, right?

          • Lambert says:

            Not sure about Uber, but Amazon isn’t losing money in a meaningful way.
            It just lind of looks like it, because they’re ploughing profits into growing the company.

            Imagine you own a small truck and move furniture for a living. If you save up some disposable income and spend it on a bigger truck that lets you move more stuff, the number in your bank account hasn’t got any bigger but you’re in a better place than you were earlier.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Amazon’s North American retail is profitable by most measures, they’re losing money mostly on international retail.

        • Jon S says:

          Commerce is positive-sum, sometimes extremely so. Amazon wants to eventually own as much as possible of the value they create, but that will still probably be a small portion of that total value.

          Amazon does create a product. They sell convenient stuff on your doorstep – the stuff itself is just an input (admittedly the main one) to that product. That convenience, when it was an option at all, was much more expensive 20 years ago (if you wanted something quickly, usually your best option was to spend a significant amount of your time going to the store).

        • I might be misunderstanding you, but do you subscribe to a zero-sum model of economics? Usually that’s not how that’s modeled. If I enter into a voluntary transaction with you, I give you money for an item and you give the item to me, I value the item more than I value the money I gave you, and you value the money more than you value keeping the item. In other words, every voluntary transaction generates at least some value for both participants that isn’t taken from somewhere else.

          In the case of Amazon, as Randy M says, what they offer the buyer that the original creators of the goods cannot offer (or cannot offer to the same degree) is logistics and convenience.

          (As a sidenote, Amazon’s profit motor is Amazon Web Services, not the store.)

          I see from your comment to Randy M that it appears that I did misunderstand what you were getting at, mea culpa. I’ll leave this up for honesty’s sake.

        • John Schilling says:

          But the value that Uber and Amazon gives away must have come from somewhere? If I’m a worker at an Indiana steel mill, and invest my pension fund in Amazon stock, and Amazon gives that money back to me trough subsidized web shopping, the real value was created in the steel mill. Right?

          Steel bar stock rusting away in the back lot of a steel mill is of no value to anyone. Steel on the receiving dock of an auto parts factory is of some value. An automobile rolling off the assembly line at Ford, potentially significant value but it could still rust away unsold. By the time it’s actually delivered to someone who needs a car, it is of great value.

          The material creators, the iron ore mine and the steel mill and the auto parts plant and the assembly plant, are creating real value. So are the transport industries, the ore freighters and the railroads and the car-transport trucks and their drivers. But so too are the people who figure out where all the stuff is and where it should go to make it more valuable than where it is right now. And that’s not a trivial matter that can be solved by a few clerks with spreadsheets. Amazon et al make it possible for a random consumer with no experience in international logistics and no more than a few minutes to devote to the task, to query a significant fraction of the world’s material production capacity scattered across places they’ve never heard of and run by people whose language they don’t speak, to find who has the best deal on what they specifically want. Stuff that would rust away unsold, or go to someone who only kind of sort of wants it but speaks the same language as the producer, now goes to where the demand is greatest.

          That’s real value. Trillions of dollars worth of real value.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            But is an auto factory that doesn’t make a profit creating value, simply because it is taking steel and turning it into more valuable cars? Isn’t “not making profit” an important signal that this factory isn’t in fact creating any value, and that we would be better of shutting it down?

            Same goes for Amazon. If Amazon busts tomorrow (unlikely, but entertain the hypothesis), was any net value actually created? If Amazon is creating large amounts of value right now, why can’t it funnel some of that value back as a profit?

          • Lambert says:

            It could funnel that into profit (i.e. dividends) but the shareholders reckon that they’d be better off in the long run funneling it into making more amazon.

            If the auto factory isn’t making an accounting profit because they’re spending lot of money on expanding or improving the factory, that’s a very different thing to making no profit because they’re inefficient.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:


            I agree.

            If Amazon busts tomorrow (unlikely, but entertain the hypothesis), was any net value actually created?

          • ana53294 says:

            If Amazon busts tomorrow (unlikely, but entertain the hypothesis), was any net value actually created?

            You have all those people in the countryside who get to order the specialized equipment they need, rather than the more general things that are in the store. All those people who got to save money or buy better stuff than they otherwise would have still get to keep the value surplus.

            The creation of the ebook market, and the indie publishing revolution, is also a net plus created by Amazon.

            All those servers will remain there, and, considering global demand, somebody else will use them, so global server capacity has still been increased.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Isn’t “not making profit” an important signal that this factory isn’t in fact creating any value, and that we would be better of shutting it down?

            It generally is a good signal, yes, but there’s some complications:

            – Consumer surplus might be higher than the loss recorded by the entity. A business that generates $10 of consumer surplus and loses $5 on every sale is generating value, but utterly failing at capturing it. Net benefit is $5. In general, this isn’t doesn’t matter, because investors don’t care about consumer surplus, but it does mean that such a company could at least in theory become profitable, by somehow charging more for the products/services it’s already providing.
            – Accounting is somewhat flexible. In theory all expenses that will yield future benefits would be capitalized so that they don’t affect immediate profits, but companies are incentivized to make their investments count as expenses, to decrease their immediate tax burden (such time-shifting is basically getting a 0% loan from the IRS). Amazon’s software and other intangibles is largely uncapitalized as I understand it, and their free cash flow indicates they’re more profitable than they might first look.

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t “not making profit” an important signal that this factory isn’t in fact creating any value

            It’s a signal, but not a perfect one. In the trivial case, a company that is doing all the things that are necessary to create 100 units of real value is still creating 100 units of real value even if the owner botches the pricing structure so that the customers wind up with 120 units of real value and the owner is out of pocket 20 units.

            More likely, the company is doing something like selling below cost to build market share, or paying extra to hire a first-rate staff that will help it create still more value in the future, or front-loading its maintenance costs during an off period in a cyclic business, or any number of things that are expected to increase both value creation and profits in the long term but may be reported as negative profit in the short term.

          • J Mann says:

            But is an auto factory that doesn’t make a profit creating value, simply because it is taking steel and turning it into more valuable cars? Isn’t “not making profit” an important signal that this factory isn’t in fact creating any value, and that we would be better of shutting it down?

            It depends. Since we’re mostly talking about tech start-ups, I’ll stick with Amazon/Uber/etc.

            1) It’s possible that what we’re seeing now is an investment in the future, and that viewed over a long-enough time frame (including a chunk of the future), they’re creating a profit. Nobody really complains when their grocery store offers a 2 for 1 deal, even if that means the store is taking a loss on that product.

            2) It’s possible that they’re using investor money to subsidize prices below the market clearing price, and that as a result, more product is being sold than would be at the market-clearing price. This is an unusual thing to complain about, but if so (and barring case #1 where this is a necessary path to a higher value stage later), then this outcome is relatively lower value than a hypothetical alternative where the resources were invested in something consumers want more.

            3) It’s also possible (but hotly debated) that by offering the product at a below market-clearing price, the seller is blocking others from entering the market, preventing sustainable innovation and/or setting the seller up to charge monopoly prices later.

        • T.P. says:

          Maybe the easiest way to attack the question of “who creates real value” is to go through components of US 2019 GDP ($21,428 bn) and decide if that industry is creating “real value” or not:
          Definitely Create “Real Value”
          – Agriculture, mining, utilities (4% or $824 bn)
          – Construction & manufacturing (15%)
          – Transportation and warehousing (3%)

          Less Certain Value Creators
          – Wholesale trade & retail trade (11%) you could probably say a lot of this is middlemen taking a mark up, so let’s say it’s 50% no value add
          – Information (5%) I’m going to say this is 100% value add, but I can see an argument against it
          – Professional & Business Services (13%) again, let’s say 50% is value creation
          – Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation (1%) I like movies, and sports games, so I’m saying this is 100% real value
          – Accommodation and food services (3%) seems like real value to me, 100%
          – Other services, except government (2%) IDK what this is, so let’s say 50% real value

          Less Value
          – Finance, insurance, real estate, rental (21%) obviously efficient allocation of capital is super important, but let’s be pessimistic and say only 10% of their GDP contribution is real value creation
          – Educational services (1%) why is this so low? Is private education really only $264 billion? Whatever, let’s say it’s 10% real value creation
          – Healthcare & social assistance (8%), I’ll say 25% of this is real value creation
          – Federal, State, and Local Government (12%), building roads is real value and K-12 education provides some service to society, so let’s say 25%

          Haha, so that’s 49% real value and 51% no value. So half of GDP contribution is “real value add”, the biggest contributors being goods producing industries (manufacturing/construction/utilities/agriculture/mining) and the good half of professional and business services. The “not real value” half of GDP is #1 paying rents/insurance/finance, #2 government, #3 zero value professional services, #4 zero value healthcare.

          My data came from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (are they real value creators?) link text

          I’m no expert in US GDP categorization, so it’s very likely I misunderstood some of the categories. The GDP contribution by industry should roughly map over to total pay by industry, so we could say about 50% of US labor is engaged in “real value creation” industries and the other half isn’t. It would be interesting to do the same analysis with department of labor information.

          • yodelyak says:

            Eh, your list of which industries you think create value sounds like a political statement, not an empirical one. E.g., if we ask the deeply held religious sense that animates the Amish willingness to do without tech, or the hippies in low-tech farming co-ops, we might get an answer that many mining operations destroy value, on net, but the loss is paid mostly by distant people more than 10 years after the ore is mined (in the form of ecological harms that last centuries or, in case of significant extinctions or ecosystem collapses, millennia) while the benefit is mostly a zero-sum status boost of feeling they’ve “won” at making lots of money, which accrues directly to the extractors and their bankers (even as their own lifestyles and sense of interconnection with others are also injured).

            Put another way, without all those mines, my life would have less fancy tech, and more resemble the life of an Amish person–but would I really be worse off, or better? If the main thing that prevents bankers and extractors from completely wrecking everything (Which set cared to abolished slavery? The humans-are-sacred moral sentiments of religious-type people, or the favor-measurable-sales-instinct of mining and agriculture lobbyists?)

            I think the best possible world has a lot of both, and I think “how much of each, and how to resolve disputes between their interests” is pretty close to the perfect one-question political alignment test.

    • qwints says:

      You might enjoy David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs” which essentially claims that society has become hyper productive and that vast swathes of workers are doing useless work. .

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      We get our wealth by keeping the rest of the world down. We get raw materials and sell them back finished products. It’s colonialism without getting our hands dirty.

      Or at least that’s an explanation I’ve heard online.

      • Randy M says:

        It’s colonialism without getting our hands dirty.

        Isn’t it the dirty part that actually keeps people down? Or are you claiming the third world governments that mine and manufacture keep their people in line for our/their benefit?

      • albatross11 says:

        If that model were true, countries we imposed an embargo or blockade on would be glad to have it–they could get rich without our explotation in the marketplace. Oddly, the countries we embargo don’t seem to feel that way….

      • baconbits9 says:

        We get our wealth by keeping the rest of the world down. We get raw materials and sell them back finished products. It’s colonialism without getting our hands dirty.

        Its a poor explanation since the rest of the world was doing historically well (pre covid) and growing for decades with many obvious improvements.

    • Etoile says:

      Look at Berkshire Hathaway and what they own, and you’ll see where the value is. Now, they own brands in all sorts of industries, but the biggies seem to be: railroads and steel and industrial parts and energy; “materials and construction”; and of course insurance and real estate. In other words, what you’d expect generates value, generates value.

      I think a big one is tech companies’ more serious non-ad-based offerings, such as Amazon’s AWS.

      In terms of the inflated GDP numbers…. if our numbers are inflated, imagine how exaggerated they are for the likes of Russia/China and other countries with arguably worse accounting practices, less transparency, and even greater reputation for corruption. And if that’s the case — say, the numbers are all off by a factor of 10 — you can kind of “renormalize” and you’re back to where you were for any kind of comparative analysis.

      Finally, for the “boys in green”: there’s a ton ton ton of waste there. BUT the international stability, and trade route stability, that they help support, surely account for something which isn’t counted in official GDP numbers. (Although you can go looking for such “unaccounted-for” factors elsewhere too.)

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      First a few nitpicks:

      Caplan style “only signaling, entirely useless”

      Caplan’s estimate is 20% human capital / 80% signalling. Moreover, there is some value in even pure signalling because it reduces employer’s search costs (every time an employer can interview fewer people and still fill a position with an equivalent candidate, by throwing out any candidate without the appropriate degree, there is value created by the signalling process).

      Be careful when cherry-picking companies to represent a sector. The biggest technology companies by top-line revenue give you a very different view of where the GDP contribution of the tech sector is coming from.

      Also things generating less value than they cost is bad, but the shortfall between the two is what needs to be made up for somewhere, not the entire sector’s value. Plus a sector that pays out in taxes about as much as it receives in subsidies isn’t value-destroying so much as not bearing its proportional share of the tax burden.

      As to “where is the value produced”, one way to answer that is to start with your consumption (which is the stuff you consider to be worth your work effort), and work backwards, identifying which sectors contribute to producing what you care about. This quickly becomes intractable but it is a worthwhile exercise.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        Good point that taxes are a factor. A company that runs at a modest loss may produce net value if you account for taxation.

        Starting from myself as you suggest seems good. I guess I have a warm roof over my head, food and clothes. So is the story of our economy that we have tricked the oilman, the builder, the farmer and the seamstress that they need jet fighters, Olympic games, MRI machines and universities, and that they are buying it for now? What if they realize the ruse and understand that they can live at basically the same standard of living with like 10% of the work?

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          So is the story of our economy that we have tricked the oilman, the builder, the farmer and the seamstress

          You’re skipping a couple of steps, unless you’re buying artisanal clothes from someone down the street, locally-grown-food straight from the farmer, and your neighbor runs a small scale pumpjack, refinery, and generator.

          Leonard E. Read’s “I, Pencil” is closer to the level of analysis you’d need (although his is mostly going for qualitative, rather than the quantitative measure you’d need for your use case).

          Your grocery store employs cashiers, shelf-stockers, gets its produce through a large logistics network (including food from all over the world) and uses a whole bunch of fancy infrastructure for refrigeration, self-checkout and the like. They probably pay for payroll and accounting services. They may have borrowed money to get the initial capital to build the property (either from a bank or from franchising services).

          Plus you need to count your internet access (and at least Scott’s hosting), since you’re here. There’s people laying down fiber optic cables spanning entire continents to support that. A single chip fab costs $3-4 billion to build.

          My point isn’t that there is no waste, it’s that there is a lot of value-production spread far and wide and you have to look closely to see it.

          Although if you’re personally only spending money only on housing/food/clothing, and nothing else, and you expect that to continue, you can probably retire early or switch to part time, effectively achieving your desired standard of living with much less overall work.

          On a hopeful note, people are very much refusing to pay for hosting the Olympics nowadays, with multiple cities cancelling their bids due to popular pressure, which is great. Eventually the cost of running these things will get closer to their actual benefits. 2026 will be the first Olympics with two host cities, partly as a cost-cutting measure.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            Sure, my grocery store has a large web of supporting goods and services. But so does my local hospital and army base. Agriculture and food is about 5% of US GDP. And much of that is probably waste. Still looks like a majority of the economy is air. So if the workers in the food production chain (including the farmer) realized the ruse, then we in the non-valuable part of the economy would be screwed?

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Agriculture and food is about 5% of US GDP

            Again, ignoring a massive chunk of the people actually involved in getting the food to you. Unless you posit that the grocery store could trivially double/triple its profits by getting rid of services it doesn’t actually benefit from.

            So if the workers in the food production chain (including the farmer) realized the ruse, then we in the non-valuable part of the economy would be screwed?

            Depends what you mean. A randomly-selected American worker already has discretionary control over ~2/3rds of their income, if they didn’t think the stuff they were getting for their money was worth it, they wouldn’t be spending it in the first place.

            Consumer preferences can change, of course. If everyone decides they no longer ever want to go to theme parks for vacations, Orlando’s economy craters, but that doesn’t mean the entire thing is “air” in the meantime.

            Your statement about “a majority of the economy is air” implies either people pay for stuff they don’t actually want (otherwise they could choose to reduce their working hours/years, since they don’t need as much money), or the people providing it are incompetent at managing costs (otherwise they could substantially improve their profits). And that these effects are both massive and widespread.

            Government spending and subsidies is more likely to be value-destroying, as collective decision making can end up producing stuff no one actually wants for the price it’s produced at. That’s 35% of GDP, but again, the shortfall to cover is that minus any actual value produced out of it.

    • baconbits9 says:

      There are tons of issues with our economy (thankfully there is a lot of ruin in a nation) but the general answer is: productivity comes with the pairing of capital with labor, and GDP is just a measure of output. Say you have a beet farmer working in the fields and you give him a new hoe which is superior to his old one. With this new hoe the number of beets he can raise for sale per hour of work goes up, which is his measure of productivity. Now it doesn’t matter if you personally don’t like beets, or if beets are only purchased for signalling reasons and not for consumption, the number of beets/hour labor has increased and so productivity is higher. It doesn’t matter if education is 100% signalling, as long as people are purchasing it and as long as there is more ‘education’ being produced per hour of labor input ‘productivity’ is rising in that field.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        Sure, we seem to be very productive at signaling through healthcare or whatever. But for this discussion it actually matters what I like or not. To me, it looks like our entire economy are making things I don’t care about, and that I think no-one cares about. And that’s a waste.

        • baconbits9 says:

          and that I think no-one cares about

          Then why do people keep buying them?

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            Why do people pay faith-healers? Why did people invest in Enron? Why did the Germans elect Hitler?

            Are you really not understanding what I’m saying here? Assume for the sake of argument that Caplan is right about education and signaling. Do you don’t see the massive issue of people wasting massive sums on education out of ignorance or zero-sum thinking in that case? Wouldn’t you at least marvel at the comedy of it all?

          • baconbits9 says:

            I understand what you are saying, I am saying if you define the things that other people buy as useless then GDP will look useless.

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      K-12 as well. It’s basically looking after the children while the parents work. I think we could costs by 90% without many issues.

    • albatross11 says:

      It looks to me like the majority of the economy is obviously useless. And maybe the rest also is if we look closer? The only thing that makes me think otherwise is that we are living in unprecedented luxury when compared with history. So someone somewhere must be actually creating value that we other schmucks can live of (I’m in the defense industry so count me out). Who are these mystical value creators?

      I think you may be running up against the socialist calculation problem here. What’s actually critical for keeping the economy running is probably not the same thing as what you imagine, and there’s nobody who knows all of it.

    • David W says:

      Megaprojects may be over budget and behind schedule usually, but that doesn’t mean they fail to deliver value. Take a topical example: COVID-19 vaccine plant. It will probably be budgeted at more than a billion dollars, and aim to be built in 3 months (I’ve seen September projected for first ’emergency use’ doses from Moderna, if all goes well in trials). It will probably actually take more money than predicted, and slip a couple months. At the end of the day, Moderna probably will be paid their costs, not actually make a profit.

      It will still produce more value than it costs – it will end the shutdowns and deaths. The mere fact that its cost and schedule aren’t known perfectly in advance doesn’t make it worthless. Neither does the possibility that Moderna’s shareholders have to content themselves with having their normal life back and proof that their technology works rather than also a bucketful of money.

      The same applies for a lot of megaprojects. A company’s new plant will produce 10 billion in operating profit over the next three decades. You project it to take 1 billion to build in three years, and it actually takes 1.5 billion over five years before it gets to full capacity. That’s considered a project management failure. After all, you spent 500 million more than you planned! The company had to issue bonds they weren’t planning on and cut their dividends for a while. Years 4 and 5 were especially lean and they had to delay the next project since this one didn’t have revenue yet and was still taking the attention of their entire technical staff. You were also wrong on operating profit and it only produces 8 billion over the next three decades.

      The company still makes money overall. The plant still creates good jobs for the community, and its customers have a problem solved. It’s worth study, and work, so that the next project can come closer to projections, but it’s only a failure compared to what could have been. On the whole, the board still made the right decision to build the plant.

      Sure, Flyvbjerg points out some cases where that’s not true, where the plant cost ballooned to 11 billion, but keep in mind he’s arguing reasons why you should hire his expertise to avert disaster (or at least buy his book. On average these are still profitable, just not as profitable as projected.

    • Dack says:

      Where’s the value created?

      Ideas are valuable.

    • Matt M says:

      Others have already covered this a bit, but Uber has created a huge value for frequent business travelers in particular, and also for people who live in urban environments trying to get by without owning a car.

      The fact that they are unprofitable doesn’t mean they aren’t creating value, it just means that for various reasons, they’re allowing an even greater amount of that value to be transferred to the consumer than is typical for a business.

      • albatross11 says:


        From the perspective of someone who was (pre-pandemic) a very frequent traveller, Uber just made travel about 25% nicer everywhere I went that had it. Not “find someone to call me a cab” or “try to figure out what cab companies are local” + pay with cash, but rather order a ride on Uber and everything just seamlessly works.

        • Matt M says:

          In the two years I worked in consulting, I feel like I can safely say that Uber could have doubled its prices, and it wouldn’t have affected the purchasing behavior of myself or any of my corowkers one bit.

          • albatross11 says:

            To be fair, in both your and my cases, we weren’t paying ourselves, we were expensing the Uber rides. But I’ve also occasionally used Uber when my car was broken down / in the shop and I needed to go somewhere, and it’s great. Similarly, my wife and I have used it sometimes for pleasure travel as well, where we’re paying the bill ourselves.

          • Matt M says:

            Eh, at the time I used it pretty frequently on my own/at my own expense as well. Almost all of us did.

            And while it’s true that most of the time I was expensing it, I guess what I’m saying is that even if it cost twice as much, the company still would have been willing to pay it (we could charge up to $50 for a taxi ride without exception, and the majority of my trips were under $25).

      • baconbits9 says:

        My favorite part about Uber is not taking it. I took a long weekend in San Diego this past January and simply walked everywhere, from the airport to the hotel and vice versa included. Being able to call a ride quickly and cheaply anywhere, at any time, made it far more comfortable to set out on a day without a car or a ride. I walked ~ 48 miles over those 4 days and came back from vacation fitter and happier than if I had taken some other form of transportation.

        • Nick says:

          +1, when I was in Boston last summer we walked around town and only needed the Uber to get back to the hotel or to and from the airport.

      • Etoile says:

        Indeed. Ask anyone in a dodgy neighborhood looking for a ride to the airport at 5 AM what it’s like trying to get at least one of the ten taxi companies in town to show up at your door….

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        If Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi walks up to you and gives you $100, has he created any value? You see the point I’m getting at?

        Is Uber really creating value, or is it just using money from investors to subsidize travel for its customers? How do we tell the difference?

        • Randy M says:

          If Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi walks up to you and gives you $100, has he created any value?

          Yes, because apparently he doesn’t value $100 very much, but I do.

  60. rocoulm says:

    My doctor may say I don’t have dyslexia, but sometimes it sure seems like ti.

    • Bobobob says:

      Maybe you need religion. Do you believe in dog?

    • Aftagley says:

      Maybe at Christmas you’ll get something helpful from Satan.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        You just reminded me of the Mexican film Santa Claus (1959), where Lucifer sends the devil Pitch to Earth before Christmas to make all of Earth’s children naughty.
        SPOILER: he’s only capable of corrupting three boys in Mexico City.

        • Bobobob says:

          If I recall correctly, this one got the MST3K treatment.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yes. They got a lot of mileage out of the fact that the screenwriter apparently wasn’t familiar with American Santa Claus lore and so made the jolly Saint a space-dwelling enemy of Lucifer who lives with Merlin and a multicultural force of child laborers.

  61. ana53294 says:

    I’d like to discuss the myth of unwanted babies: why does it seem so prevalent?

    Among the environmentalist anti-natalists I’ve met, most seemed to believe that they shouldn’t give birth to a biological child, and that the urge to parent can be satisfied by adopting a child that needs parents. While being a biological parent is obviously qualitatively different from adoption, for many reasons, let’s not go into that. Whenever I point that there are no children out there who are adoptable, they point me at all the children that are in sub-optimal foster homes. The very reason that these children are in foster care is because they are either too old or not adoptable.

    Foster care is much, much worse than adoption if you want to become a parent: you run a huge risk of being hugely emotionally invested in a child that can be snatched from you at any moment. Besides, the biological parents frequently have visitation rights, which, considering the kind of thing children end up in foster care for, means you will have to watch like a hawk so they don’t abuse the children, but with much fewer rights than an actual parent. The people who foster are highly admirable, but I wouldn’t say fostering is an adequate substitute for the experience of parenting.

    I guess most of them are not informed enough about the matter, but they do seem to care about it a lot, preaching to strangers about not having children. I sometimes tried to argue with them, telling them the experience of many adoption attempts I’ve witnessed: families who have been trying to adopt for more than a decade, and ultimately gave up, families who spent all their savings, families who end up with a deeply ill and traumatised child (and that’s the good ending). So why are anti-natalists so against having biological children? I guess they make up a lie about how easy it is to become a parent without that, but the skepticism shown towards having children bugs me.

    I personally believe that if you want children, you should attempt to have as many as you want biologically, since there is a mile-long list of those who want to adopt who can’t biologically have children. Besides, the fertility rates are so low, that even if you believe in all the environmental propaganda, even having 8 children won’t affect the average one bit. If you have the patience of a saint and the emotional discipline for it, fostering is highly admirable, and should be encouraged, but not to have fewer children or anything like that.

    • Kaitian says:

      The reason people say “just adopt” is because they haven’t researched the issue and believe that there are children available for anyone who wants one. They preach about not having biological children because they believe it’s wrong to bring more people into the world. What you do instead (adopting, getting a dog, joining a commune, staying alone) doesn’t matter to them and they don’t feel the need to put a lot of thought into it.

      Maybe they have the experience of adopting a cat or dog from a shelter, which is generally reasonably easy.