Open Thread 154.25

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1,062 Responses to Open Thread 154.25

  1. johan_larson says:

    The aliens with the giant spaceships have wiped out all our electrical power plants. Pinpoint strikes by orbital deathrays have destroyed them all, whether powered by coal, gas, hydro, solar, wind, oil, geo-thermal, or nuclear reactors. All our gear that uses electrical power is still in place, as is the electrical distribution grid. Batteries are untouched, as are household and building-sized generators. But anything that can power even a neighborhood is gone.

    How screwed are we?

  2. chrisminor0008 says:

    @John Schilling, this comment didn’t age well.

  3. SearchingSun says:

    Anyone have experience with the FOCI biometric device ( I sometimes have trouble focusing when working at my computer, and this seems like it could help.

  4. Uribe says:

    One pro-Trump argument I often hear but have never bought is he is less likely to start a war.

    Now he’s withdrawn from Open Skies and it sounds like he has no intention of renewing START.

    These aren’t the same as “starting a war” but he seems more likely than any president in decades to prefer nuclear proliferation to treaties which prevent it.

    What’s the argument that he’s likely to prevent nuclear proliferation? Is it wise of him to reject the renewal of START?

    • cassander says:

      Neither open skies nor START has much to do with nuclear proliferation. nuclear proliferation usually refers to new countries getting access to nuclear weapons, not existing nuclear armed states building more of them.

      • Uribe says:

        Then let me use the less elegant “nuclear arms build-up” instead of proliferation.

      • sfoil says:

        One aspect of non-proliferation is that current nuclear states shouldn’t take actions that incentivize non-nuclear states to build their own weapons. I don’t think either of these particular treaties particularly matter in that regard, but I guess you could argue that it creates an atmosphere of hostility by one of the big nuclear states or something.

    • ana53294 says:

      Producing more nuclear weapons is quite different from sending Americans to foreign lands so they can return in body bags.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      The reflex counter argument here (based on things like the Paris Agreement) is that he actually read the treaty and disagreed with the content. So there’s likely a discussion to be had on what the treaties actually say they do, vs what the consequences really are. Not having read the treaties I have no opinion either way.

    • BBA says:

      The argument was that he was less likely to start a war than Hillary Clinton, which could appear in the dictionary under “not saying much.”

  5. proyas says:

    Is there such a thing as “whole-body sign language”? Like a semaphore technique that involves moving and/or repositioning your limbs and body so as to form letters or whole words that someone else can see from a long distance?

    • GearRatio says:

      I don’t mean to be snarky here, but isn’t that Semaphore? What’s semaphore not doing well in this category?

  6. proyas says:

    Power armor is mildly feasible, mechwarriors are probably not, and giant Jaeger robots are definitely not.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      So what are you supposed to do if Kaiju appear in your world? Use nukes on your own territory? Pray to Jesus for a Christian moth Kaiju to defend you?

      • Leafhopper says:

        Distribute humans equally across the surface of the Earth so it takes longer for them to exterminate us.

        Alternatively, if you want to get all boring and IRL-ish, conventional heavy weaponry.

        • GearRatio says:

          Distribute humans equally across the surface of the Earth so it takes longer for them to exterminate us.

          The God-Emperor Leto would like a word with you about your limited vision.

      • cassander says:

        anti-ship missiles will fuck them right up.

      • beleester says:

        Let them collapse under their own weight as the square-cube law asserts itself?

        If that doesn’t happen, reverse-engineer whatever wonder-material allows the kaiju’s bones to support that sort of weight, and make tank armor out of that stuff. (Bolos – the tank-lover’s answer to giant robots!)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Let them collapse under their own weight [and]
          If that doesn’t happen, reverse-engineer whatever wonder-material allows the kaiju’s bones to support that sort of weight, and make tank armor out of that stuff.

          Very X-COM. I think we have a winner.

        • Jake R says:

          I like to joke that if kaiju existed we would hunt them to extinction for their bones. HE missiles to the jugular ought to do the trick, assuming they have a jugular and can bleed out. The real challenge is finding a way to join their bones together to build a space elevator.

      • John Schilling says:

        Take whatever miracle-metal you imagine your giant Jaeger robots are made of, forge it into a nice big kinetic-energy penetrator, strap it to a solid rocket motor for about Mach 6 terminal velocity, laser guidance up front, hang the whole thing off an F-15E or if necessary an old B-52, then wait for the opportune moment when the Kaiju mouths “what does that do?” in Japanese and show him what that does.

        Or, if you want to be boring about it, hit him from fifty miles away while he isn’t paying attention.

      • Lambert says:

        Crash a load of oil tankers into it then bomb them in the early afternoon.

        With any luck, the burning oil slick will become a firestorm and consume all the oxygen nearby.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Be friends with them:

        Failing that, parasites plus chemicals work quite well at taking down larger animals (see Bees vs. verroa mites and nicotinoids). We may be a little large to be parasites, but our carnivorous pets would probably do quite well.

    • ltowel says:

      Gundam tries to dance around this by introducing magical particles which make radar and radio communications worthless – so, that being said, are the robots still tall enough to make artillery or fighter planes a better option even if they can’t communicate with spotters/other units?

      • cassander says:

        I mean, the kaiju are hundreds of feet tall. sit on top of a decent hill and you’ll be able to see them from dozens of miles away. And what the observer sees, he can shout to the battery at the base of the hill about.

      • Watchman says:

        If only we had communication technologies that allowed people to coordinate armies prior to radio. And if only our military were taught such things as contingency…

        Its hard to see how humanity could fail to beat large monsters that appear in low numbers without so many invocations of non-scientific powers that the question becomes how long before humans figure out how to tap this power source as well?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      There was a very underrated real mecha fight about a year ago. This is a random link, I don’t have the energy right now to look for the interesting bit. But some very interesting things happened. They scheduled a number of rounds, and by sheer accident and noobness… the first one was actually for real. And scary. So scary they immediately reverted to a completely different format.

      It’s a very small thing, less then 10 seconds – what the japanese did was to just rush the US machine and punch it. But given that it’s literally the only real-ish mecha fight in existence, I think it’s worth more talk than it got. For example it’s clearly in the “mech” category from your link, and yet it’s nothing like described. If it ever gets to be used for real it’ll be a lot like the Tachikomas in GitS, with leg wheels that are actually a lot more agile than a regular car (imagine you have a meter long movable suspension) but can be used to also climb stairs, even if awkwardly.

      • Lambert says:

        Now I want to see an illegal underground BostonDynamics robot fight. Give them cordless angle grinders or oxyacetylene torches to hold.

  7. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    A random one from the archives: Setting the default

    A quick retreat to a simpler situation: suppose Adam really wants to keep all the windows in the house open all winter with no heat on, so that the inside temperature is 10F and the house is full of snow. Steve does not want to do this. Both of them want to stay together for the sake of the kids, but this do-we-freeze-our-house thing is really getting in the way.

    This problem is easy. Adam, you’re crazy and your preferences are stupid and don’t count. Suck it up and keep living with Steve at normal-person temperatures.

    Another retreat in the other direction: suppose Adam wants to sometimes take a shower, but for some reason the thought of Adam being in a shower pisses Steve off and he refuses to allow it. Once again, both of them want to stay together for the sake of the kids, but this can-Adam-take-a-shower thing is really getting in the way.

    This problem is also easy. Steve, this time your preferences are stupid and don’t count. Suck it up and let Adam take a shower.

    I’m kind of surprised since I’m usually a 100% Scott fanboy, but I totally disagree with this. Weird preferences shouldn’t automatically be dismissed in a relationship. If my GF wanted my to never shower, I wouldn’t say “your preference is stupid and doesn’t count”. I would say “I love you and wants to make you happy but you understand that not showering is kind of impractical?” And then we could find a compromise. Maybe I could take baths instead of showering, or not shower for a week during vacations or whatever.

    What society think is “normal” has nothing to do with this, beyond setting the limits for practical behavior (I need to clean somehow to keep my job). Like, in my mind there’s no difference between my partner wanting me to do a “normal” thing (like doing an elaborate proposal) or “unnormal” thing (like letting her go to kink clubs). In both cases I would do a cost-benefit of how-much-discomfort-does-this-cause-me vs. how-much-happines-does she-get and figure out if it is worth it or not. (Yes, I’ll do an elaborate proposal even if it isn’t really my thing, but I’m way too jealous to let you near kink clubs.)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      What society thinks is “normal” matters a lot. I signed up for marriage with my wife for better or worse till death do us part, but I signed up for a very specific set of quirks. And obviously people change, but there’s a degree of change that each of us should be able to expect. That means maybe I get really into model trains or my wife gets really into yoga. We can compromise on that. But if she decides she wants to stop taking showers, that’s WAY beyond normal, and it’s my right to shame her back into Normal People Behavior, and it’s the responsibility of her friends and family to shame her back into Normal People Behavior.

      • GearRatio says:

        In this scenario it’s not even that reasonable – She decided YOU aren’t allowed to take showers. That’s potentially important – It’s not just that she wants to be cold, she’s demanding you also be cold. She doesn’t want to be dirty, she wants you to be dirty.

        • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

          As I said, I don’t really see the difference here. My partner wants me to do something for their happiness. The important factors to me are: 1. How uncomfortable is the thing they want me to do? 2. How happy does it make them? Why does it matter if the thing is “normal” or not?

          I think it’s reasonable to ask your partner to take actions in relationships. Sure, if my girlfriend just demanded that I stopped taking showers it would be a big red flag. But if she brought up her desire, motivated it (maybe it turns her on or she has a phobia of people slipping in the shower or something) and was willing to find a compromise, than all is fine. Isn’t those kind of tradeoffs kind of an important thing in relationships?

        • GearRatio says:


          I think this is a situation that’s helped by looking at extremes. Starting with an extremely easy one:

          My partner has always been very turned on by me eating peaches; I like peaches, but given my druthers would always have plums, which I like only slightly better and traditionally always keep in the fridge. They are also legitimately distressed by the thought that I won’t eat peaches, and terrified of plums. I’d rather just eat plums and continue not eating peaches- isn’t she/he being unreasonable?

          This is the kind of thing that works well with your “Well, don’t you care about him/her?” scenario. We have a reasonable adjustment; one person is asking for a reasonable small adjustment that will increase their happiness a ton at a minimal loss to the other person. This is normal and happens all the time, and pretty much everyone agrees on this.

          My partner, knowing I am terrified of peaches and find them nauseating, is demanding I eat them. It’s somewhat reasonable because they are terrified of the plums I usually eat and are super turned on by peaches, but I would be as distressed by eating peaches as she is by me eating plums. Both my revulsion to peaches and her need of them are recent, but genuine.

          This is a whole different territory. Now, I’m not talking about a “I give a little, you get a lot” situation – I’m talking about a situation where we both have reasonable, relatively equal claims to utility that are opposed to each other. If one party wins, the other loses; they have opposed goals.

          This is the first thing you aren’t acknowledging about this situation – you’ve said something like “Well, why can’t I give on little things like showers? Don’t I love them?”. But there are situations where both parties are being reasonable, but still aren’t dealing with little things that are easy to negotiate about.

          If you don’t acknowledge that peaches guy’s needs and preferences exist and can be important too, then yeah, it’s easy to go “why won’t this asshole negotiate?”. But once he has equal human value and can need things, it gets more complex.

          My partner knows I can’t eat peaches due to an irrational but incurable fear of stone fruit. It’s something we talked about at length before we got married. They have recently decided they want me to eat peaches as a sort of sexual dominance thing; they’d get off on the power. They have made clear that they will be unhappy and unhappy with me if I don’t do this, and that they will die on this hill and ruin our relationship over the issue.

          Now we have a situation where one person’s utility is more legitimate than the other – they are legitimately damaged by eating peaches, while the other person wants an illegitimate form of control over them. Sub in this common real-world form of this:

          Bob and Jane get married – Bob has never mentioned any unusual needs. Suddenly, Bob decides Jane can never leave the house and cannot have any friends; he doesn’t like her friends, and he’s afraid she might cheat on him. He demands she stay close to home at all times, only leaving with his permission for necessities. Jane emotionally needs and wants outside friends and feels like a prisoner.

          Bob’s demand injures Jane, and Bob is changing the terms of their “deal” midstream. Bob might very well want Jane to stay home a great deal, and he might derive pleasure and satisfaction from having this level of control over Jane. Are you prepared to tell Jane “I don’t see what the problem is – don’t you love Bob enough to compromise?”.

          To have this conversation honestly, you must consider these things:

          1. Is this an ask, or a demand?

          Anything can be asked about, with the understanding that certain asks (example: “let’s buy rabbits and kill them!”) reveal things about a person. But Scott’s examples weren’t simple asks moving into negotiation – you had couples who were opposed to each other’s goals(one wanted to cheat on their partner all of the sudden, and the other didn’t want to get cheated on, one was irrationally angry when the other did a normal, necessary act and the other wanted to do the normal act). If it’s a demand or a “I can’t be happy unless I have this, we can’t be together unless I have this” ultimatum, it’s a different thing.

          2. What does the utility balance look like?

          If Bob absolutely loses doing X and Jane doesn’t win about X being done one way or the other or wins in only a small amount, then Bob has a lot more negotiating power and his ask/demand is more reasonable.

          If Bob absolutely loses doing X and Jane absolutely loses if X isn’t done, then the “Just negotiate! Didn’t you say you cared about this person?” stance loses all it’s power unless you devalue one of the humans in the equation.

          3. Was this a pre-existing thing both partners talked about, or is this all of the sudden?

          Bob knows Jane is revulsed by being peed on and has known from when they started dating to well past long-term commitment stages of the relationship and then suddenly demands Jane be peed on or he will never be happy and will scorch their relationship. This is different than if they had never talked about it, or if it came up at the beginning of the relationship when the cost to walk away was much less.

          Jane may be unwilling to change the terms of the “deal” here, but ignoring that Bob knew the terms of the deal and agreed to them and is now unilaterally demanding a change is a mistake.

          4. Does this damage the other person?

          Demanding someone never takes showers is a thing that normally damages them – it makes them less appealing to most other people, less healthy, makes them feel less clean, and makes them feel worse about themselves. It decreases their ability to work in most situations.

          Saying “Hey, baby, could you eat an apple for me?” when baby doesn’t have a huge problem with apples is reasonable, and they should probably be willing to do it in a nice relationship. Saying “Hey, baby, I think it would be hot if you really let your dental care go to an extreme degree” is different. Ignoring that is a mistake and is willfully devaluing the needs of one person to inappropriately focus on the needs of the other.

          Overall, I think you might be ignoring a few or all of these to make your point. Yes, normal couples negotiate and try to maximize their group happiness. No, it’s not always reasonable to expect someone to give up ground to the other person in situations where they have equally reasonable personal utility claims. Doubly so if one person’s demands are unreasonable or “changes to the deal”.

          I often make sacrifices for my wife and she often makes them for me because we care about each other, but we are also both aware that there are limits to the demands we can make on each other before the demander is simply being abusive, disregarding the other person, being unfair, and should be resisted.

    • Kaitian says:

      In a relationship, you probably wouldn’t phrase it as “your preference is stupid and doesn’t count”. You’d try to figure out what exactly they’re trying to achieve by wanting to leave all windows open in winter, and then find some way to give them that without actually doing the ridiculous thing. But at the same time, there’s no way you’re actually leaving all the windows open.

      The example about monogamy is supposed to be an edge case. In many social groups, it would be “no way are you allowed to have sex with anyone else”, but in other groups allowing it would be the expected outcome. I think that’s what Scott is trying to describe: certain options are just not on the table unless all involved really want it.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        But my point is that to me, all options are on the table no matter if they are normal or not. If my girlfriend wants to do X, I don’t care if it is normal or not. I just care about how much effort/unhappiness it requires from me and how happy it makes her.

    • yodelyak says:

      Scott writes long-form for a reason. It doesn’t seem to me your excerpt does any justice to what he was arguing for, or against. It seems to me your quote has omitted his thesis, which I think is pretty clearly and openly stated at the end. So, I’m not surprised you find you disagree with the impression you appear to have formed of what he meant.

      Maybe try directly challenging his thesis, as you would state it? I think it relates to the idea that he has recently (as of that article) learned something which makes him more sympathetic to *both* progressive culture warriors *and* traditionalist culture warriors. Maybe the specific thesis is “culture wars sometimes need to be fought because culture provides the default.”

      If you disagree with that as a general statement, explain what you mean. Maybe try imagining if you noticed a cultural shift that was likely to make it harder for you to keep your job, and see if that makes you sympathetic to the folks who see other cultural changes as important (whether in a good way or a bad way).

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        I don’t see how I’m doing Scott injustice. I’ll cite him at the end for you:

        UR said that “the sovereign is the one who sets the null hypothesis”. Once you’ve let the culture set a default – going to fetish clubs is a reasonable request, going to fetish clubs is an unreasonable request – then given sufficiently good liberal norms people who want to deviate from the default can absolutely do so, but as soon as a conflict springs up the identity of the default option still matters a lot.

        So Scotts thesis is that what is normal is important. If kink clubs are normal, Adam “wins” the discussion by default. If kink clubs aren’t normal, “Steve” wins. And as you said, “culture wars sometimes need to be fought because culture provides the default.”

        And I disagree with this. In my relationship, I don’t care about the default. If my girlfriend wants me to do X, I only care about the costs and benefits, not about if X is normal or not.

        Sure maybe I should fight the culture war to make the relationship norms more like my ideal relationship norms. But that seems to be an entirely different issue to me. Also, it isn’t obvious what to fight for. It might be good for me to fight against my ideal norms if it increases the my ratio of matches. So submissive men should probably not fight for a greater acceptance of submissive men, since that could make the ratio of submissive men/dominant women even worse.

        • Orion says:

          A culture might hold that “X is normal”, that “not-X is normal”, or that “both X and not-X are normal.” You sound like a partisan for the third faction, what you might call a maximalist normalizer. Normalizers still count as culture warriors, in my book. If you don’t feel like a warrior, spend a few minutes thinking about how you feel about the people who insist that X is pathological (or not-X is abnormal) and then get back to me.

    • I think what society thinks is normal is relevant to the implicit default rules of a contract, including a marriage contract. The parties are free to contract around those rules, but common practice is evidence of what they took it for granted was included if not contracted around.

      Suppose I bet you ten dollars on a coin flip, and you win. I’m a poor loser, so I take a ten dollar bill, shred it, and hand you the shreds. I’ve reneged on our agreement, even though we didn’t specify that the ten dollars had to be undamaged.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        Sure. But marriage contracts can be broken. If my girlfriend wakes up one day and suddenly decides that she wants me to do X, it doesn’t really matter if X is normal or not. If I don’t want to do it and we can’t find a compromise, the relationship is over. It doesn’t really matter if X is “normal” and my my girlfriends “wins by default”, or if X is unnormal and I “win by default”.

  8. proyas says:

    The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1-3, 1863. It’s traditionally thought of as the turning point of the U.S. Civil War, and innumerable alternate history books and articles have been written about what would have happened if the Confederates had won.

    To help answer that question, it’s very useful to ask how many reinforcements were, in OTL, marching towards Gettysburg, and would have arrived on July 4, 5 and 6. For example, even if the South had won the battle, what would it have meant if, two days later, an extra 50,000 Union troops arrived but no new Confederates arrived?

    • cassander says:

      That depends a lot on how decisively the confederates won. IIRC, the forces brought to bear were something like 100k union and 75k confederate troops. Both sides lost about 25k, with casualties disproportionately high among the officers on both sides. So if the battle went just as it did, but the union broke and ran at picket’s charge the confederates would have been in real trouble if a fresh army had showed up, given they were licking their wounds and low on ammunition.

      Of course, it’s very unlikely that that would have happened. First, because if the union army broke and ran it’s unlikely that a smaller army would have been sent charging into the fray. Second, because the odds of picket’s charge working were pretty minimal. more plausible scenarios usually involve the confederate attack on the left flank on day 2 succeeding and forcing a union withdrawal. If that victory is a rout, then the confederates are in a good position to defeat multiple union forces in detail, but it’s not clear how long they can keep that up. Anything less than a rout, though, and the situation for them gets rapidly worse as more and more union troops get pulled in from all directions and they get lower on supplies and take more casualties.

    • Dack says:

      The Civil War was weird. The confederates didn’t want to be the bad guys and march into DC and burn it down and/or try to hold the government hostage, etc. So they mostly just flailed around attacking different union forces instead of going after any meaningful locations. Thus there weren’t any big stakes to winning or losing at Gettysburg for either side. That just happened to be where the momentum changed. Even if the south had crushed the north at Gettysburg, they were already doomed to lose the war by that point.

      • cassander says:

        By that late in the war, DC was ringed with forts and had 10s of thousands of men defending it on top of the field armies. I don’t see how the confederates had a chance at taking it after a year or 2.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          I had heard that DC at the time was the most fortified city on the planet.

          • cassander says:

            It was by the end of the war. I’m not sure how far along it was by 1863.

          • Watchman says:


            Probably already there. It’s not as if any other industrial nation was fortifying its capital at that point (although I suspect several European cities were heavily defended).

          • AlphaGamma says:

            In terms of heavily-fortified European cities, I think the most fortified at that point might have been Luxembourg, although I’m not sure if that even counts as a city at that point- the garrison may well have outnumbered the civilian population within the walls.

            (Luxembourg at the time was part of the German Confederation and in personal union with the Netherlands. The garrison were Prussian- the Dutch had the right to contribute troops to it, but never did.)

        • Dack says:

          Yeah, like I said, they were already doomed by that point. For the “storming DC” tactic to work, they would have had to make the first move. But they didn’t want to conquer the north, they didn’t see themselves as the villains, they just wanted the union to back down so they could part ways.

    • John Schilling says:

      and innumerable alternate history books and articles have been written about what would have happened if the Confederates had won.

      They’d have rampaged around Pennsylvania and Maryland for a while, but the Union was by 1863 too far committed to the fight to give in for anything a Confederate army could have done along those lines. Nor, with interior lines working in the Union’s favor for a change, could Confederate logistics have supported an invasion that would have given them a materially decisive win.

      The decisive battles of the Civil War were 1st Bull Run/Manassas, Forts Henry & Donelson, and the Wilderness Campain. The first decided that the war was going to be long and bloody, that the Confederates were capable of defending the Northern Virginia front well enough that there would be no quick victory of marching into Richmond and a quick collapse of Confederate morale and unity. That could have gone differently, but it didn’t. The second guaranteed that the long bloody war would end with a Union victory by control of the inland waterways, opening a broad flank in the west that the Confederates couldn’t defend. That also could have gone differently, but it didn’t. The Wilderness campaign was the Confederate’s last chance to run out the clock to the 1864 presidential election with the sort of bloody repulse that might have displaced Lincoln and led to a negotiated settlement. None of the other great battles were going to change the fundamental geographic, logistical, and political constraints of the war.

      • cassander says:

        I think I’d include the peninsular campaign over Forts Henry & Donelson. A victory in 1962 would not have been exactly quick and bloodless, but it would have been a lot more so than what we got. Reasonable people can disagree on which particular McClellan mistake was the most damning. I’d probably say the aftermath of 7 pines, but it’s been a while since I read Sears.

        • Evan Þ says:

          A victory in 1962 would not have been exactly quick and bloodless…

          Uh, no, it wouldn’t have been.

          But I agree the Peninsular Campaign was at least the fourth-most-significant point in the war. An 1862 victory would’ve been very different than the one we got in that the war would’ve finished before emancipation.

      • Lillian says:

        The Wilderness campaign was the Confederate’s last chance to run out the clock to the 1864 presidential election with the sort of bloody repulse that might have displaced Lincoln and led to a negotiated settlement. None of the other great battles were going to change the fundamental geographic, logistical, and political constraints of the war.

        Lincoln’s actual plan for in the event he lost the election was to attempt to win the war during the lame-duck part of the term, which before 1937 extends to March 4th. It is highly unlikely he would have succeeded in actually doing so, but he could have had the war won enough that his successor wouldn’t want to come to a negotiated settlement when he can instead have a victory and claim the credit to boot.

        Moreover, the successor in question would have been McClellan, who wasn’t even in favour of ending the war through any means other than military vicotry. The reason he was running for President – aside from political ambition – was that he felt he was treated unjustly by the Lincoln administration and believed that he could do a better job of pursuing the war. It’s hard to posit a scenario in which the Democrats nominate someone else, because the Copperheads already succeeded in hijacking the convention away from the War Democrats and wrote a party platform calling for immediate cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement, yet they could not unseat McClellan. Which in turn resulted in the Democratic 1864 presidential campaign being marred by the nominee having to publicly repudiate his own official platform.

        So all that a bloody repulse at the Wilderness would have accomplished was give validity to McClellan’s argument that in a time of war the United States needed an experienced military man at the helm. Should he succeed in taking the helm, he would then continue to pursue the war to victory, and for all his incompetence as a field commander, McClellan was a genuinely brilliant army organizer. As long as he is not personally leading the armies in the field, and he won’t be, the United States will still win the Civil War decisively. There is simply no political path to victory for the Confederates via the 1864 election.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The pop-cultural reduction of the American Civil War completely leaves out how fascinating being fought through elections with both belligerents being representative democracies made the war.

        • cassander says:

          I could absolutely see McClellan trying to lead armies as president. I’m not saying he definitely would have, I’m just saying it wouldn’t be out of character for him. Of course, by 1865, even Mac probably couldn’t have convinced himself he was vastly outnumbered at every turn.

          • John Schilling says:

            I could absolutely see McClellan trying to lead armies as president. I’m not saying he definitely would have, I’m just saying it wouldn’t be out of character for him.

            Unfortunately, we know what happens when McClellan tries to lead an army, command an army, or administer an army, and there’s no particular reason to assume he had gotten any better at it since 1862. He’d certainly have wanted to be victorious over the Confederacy, but his excess of caution would have precluded a quick victory and if we’re positing a Lincoln defeat in 1864 there’d have been no further patience in the North for long wars.

        • None of you think that if Jackson hadn’t been shot at Chancellorsville he would have succeeded in forcing the surrender of something like half the Union army, and a defeat that big would have resulted in the Union settling?

          • cassander says:

            There is a lot of difference between half the army of the Potomac being forced to retreat and surrendering. Given that the union forces at gettysburg knew that there were a lot of other union troops around and marching towards them, surrender seems very unlikely.

          • I was talking about Chancellorseville, not Gettysburg. Hard to retreat when you are in dense wilderness, on the enemy side of the river, and the enemy is behind you as well as in front of you.

            Which was the point of what Jackson was trying to do.

          • spkaca says:

            On Chancellorsville specifically, I think it unlikely. Even without getting shot, Jackson would have found it difficult getting his troops to make a further attack at that point, from exhaustion if nothing else. The fact he was (as I recall the circumstances) looking into the possibility of a night attack shows the problem – night fighting on any scale was very rare in the Civil War, for good reasons.
            This leads to a more general point – the Army of the Potomac was so big that it was hard to control effectively, but also so big it was hard to annihilate. And this also goes for all the major Union field armies. Repeatedly, the Confederates gained tactical advantages or victories that they couldn’t quite turn into total victories because there was just one more Union division or Corps in the way, and because the Confederates were exhausted. I’m thinking here for instance of Stones River/ Murfreesboro and Chickamauga.
            Of course, outnumbered armies can win victories of annihilation. Cannae happened, and we could also talk about some of the German victories in 1940-41 similarly, or the British conquest of Cyrenaica in 1940-1. But the circumstances have to be perfect. Thinking about my examples, they were all cases where one side enjoyed a big advantage in mobility, and achieved encirclements. That was very hard to do in the Civil War, where all the heavy fighting was done by footslogging infantry. One curious factor in the Civil War was that although the Confederates had excellent cavalry, it had strikingly little strategic effect – plenty of exciting raids etc, but not apparently much of a factor on the field of the major battles – there was not, for instance, ever much idea on either side that Confederate cavalry might achieve a decisive battlefield effect by getting into the rear of Union positions. Why this was so I don’t understand, though I speculate it was because the cavalry was not quite numerous enough.

  9. proyas says:

    Jim Crow laws were pitched as being “separate but equal,” and while they may have been on paper, in practice they never were. It makes me wonder: Were there any postbellum laws that were explicitly racist, in that they singled out black people for inferior or degrading treatment? Something like “A black person may not speak ill to a white,” with that polity not having a law that said the opposite in the spirit of fairness?

    • Dack says:

      There was the whole bus seat thing.

      • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

        Was the bus seat thing codified in law or just a ‘private bus company does what private bus company feels serves its business interests better’ ? Same with privately-owned swimming pool and drinking fountains on premises of private businesses ?

        • Dack says:

          Good point. I don’t know what the statutes actually said, but I found this on wikipedia:

          In 1900, Montgomery had passed a city ordinance to segregate bus passengers by race. Conductors were empowered to assign seats to achieve that goal. According to the law, no passenger would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and no other seats were available. Over time and by custom, however, Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move when there were no white-only seats left.[24]

          The first four rows of seats on each Montgomery bus were reserved for whites. Buses had “colored” sections for black people generally in the rear of the bus, although blacks composed more than 75% of the ridership. The sections were not fixed but were determined by placement of a movable sign. Black people could sit in the middle rows until the white section filled; if more whites needed seats, blacks were to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people could not sit across the aisle in the same row as white people. The driver could move the “colored” section sign, or remove it altogether. If white people were already sitting in the front, black people had to board at the front to pay the fare, then disembark and reenter through the rear door.[25]

          • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

            A city ordinance is a law for this purpose, but it is carefully crafted to adhere to the separate-but-equal presentation, doesn’t say black people have to go in the back and says that noone could be forced to move. The equality-breaking part was left to the drivers and protected by lack of practical recourse.

        • Buttle says:

          I don’t know about buses, but segregation on trains was by force of law. When an eastbound train hit El Paso, “colored” and “white” sections were marked out by removable signs. To the point of the original question, though, I very much doubt that inferiority of “colored” accomodations was in any way required by law.

    • zzzzort says:

      There are a smattering of times when they didn’t bother to put in the ass covering bit, e.g.:
      “No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which negro men are placed.”
      “The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons.”

      Real estate covenants also often explicitly excluded non-whites, whether or not you consider those laws is another matter. They also weren’t confined to the Jim Crow south; the Romney’s had a cottage in a neighborhood in michigan with a covenant until the 60’s.

      How races were defined was also asymmetric, with white being e.g. >15/16th caucasian ancestry and black being >1/16th african ancestry., e.g
      “All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited.”

      • Buttle says:

        Real estate covenants also often explicitly excluded non-whites, whether or not you consider those laws is another matter. They also weren’t confined to the Jim Crow south; the Romney’s had a cottage in a neighborhood in michigan with a covenant until the 60’s.

        I remember my parents consulting a lawyer to figure out whether the racist covenant on the house they bought in 1972, in New Mexico, was enforceable. By that time it was not. Real estate redlining not too much prior was very much federal government policy, and extended to all states.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      Yes, there were. In general, the laws to look up are the so-called Black Codes; some of these were racially neutral as written, or at least were partially so. But others explicitly targeted black people; the most notorious is an example from Louisiana that forbade any “negro or freedman” from:
      coming within the town limits without special permission, rent or keep a house within town limits, hold public meetings, etc.

      • Buttle says:

        There is also the example of Oregon, which shortly after attaining statehood banned black people from moving in. I don’t think this particular law was ever enforceable, but the sentiment was clear.

    • sharper13 says:

      One of the reasons the Democrats had to pass explicitly racist laws in the South is that many businesses were fine serving blacks (a lot of the newer rich, the professional class, the entrepreneurial class, etc… moving from the North were Republican, compared to the old Southern Democrats) and thus would out compete more racist competition without a law forcing them to all comply.

  10. proyas says:

    I’ve heard that a big reason why the U.S. economy was so strong in the 1950s and 60s was because the average age was younger, so there were relatively few old people and hence less spending was devoted to Social Security, pensions, and healthcare spending. That meant more money was freed up for things like the space program.

    However, the overall dependency ratio–which counts children in addition to old people–was actually lower in the 1960s than it is in the slower-growth modern times (ignoring the acute economic shock of COVID-19).

    So why did the economy grow faster in the 1960s even though the non-working share of the American population was actually higher than today? Old people gobble up money, but so do kids.

    [Note: I suspect the answer will be that an old person takes more money out of the economy than a child, and if that’s the case, what’s the average per capita cost disparity?]

    • So why did the economy grow faster in the 1960s even though the non-working share of the American population was actually higher than today?

      You are assuming that the explanation you offered at first is correct, and just has to be tweaked to take account of children. There are lots of other possible reasons for more rapid growth. Hong Kong went from dirt poor to a higher per capita income than the U.K. during the same period in which China went from dirt poor to dirt poor.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Central banks responded to the oil crisis, and the inflation it caused by creating unemployment to stop wage growth. This worked at stopping inflation, but since (real) wage growth is the very definition of economic growth, they have been strangling economic growth across the west ever since.

      Dont believe me? Go read the announcement about why every interest rate tightening was necessary for the past 20 years. There are archives of them. The words “overheated labor market” will appear a very great deal. What that actually means is that unemployment was lower than the central bank liked. They dont wait for actual inflation to show up, they kill booms when people get jobs.

      • m.alex.matt says:

        Real wage growth is, by definition, not inflationary.

        Central banks try to get out ahead of inflation during expansions because they began to understand the role expectations play in inflation rates. If people expect inflation to go be going up, this will, in part, make it go up. So, if they wait for inflation to start before raising rates, what happens isn’t: See 4% inflation tick as unemployment drops to 3% or something, raise rates, have inflation tamper down to 2% and unemployment says at 3%, what happens is: See 4% inflation tick as unemployment drops to 3%, raise rates, inflation goes to 2% andunemployment goes to 5%. Or worse, they are over-cautious in their rate hike and inflation starts going up to 5 and 6% anyway. Then they have to raise rates even further, meaning inflation drops to 2% but unemployment goes to 7%.

        They obviously want to avoid repeating the situation that occurred in the 1970’s where breaking inflation required elevated unemployment. They’d like to hit that sweet spot where inflation expectations remain dampened because the central bank’s inflation target is credible in the eyes of the public and unemployment is allowed to stay at its natural level. This is NAIRU: The non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Thing is.. I am morally certain that central banks have been undershooting that goal consistently. You can tell this because there have been zero episodes of significant actual inflation occuring. If central bank aim had been clustered around that rate, they would sometimes be overly doveish, and that never happens. Implication: Their actual aimpoint is way to low.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This is a question with no satisfying answer. You will get better results asking whether Black Holes are surrounded by firewalls, because at least then you won’t have ideological trenches being dug around that battlefield.

    • sharper13 says:

      So why did the economy grow faster in the 1960s even though the non-working share of the American population was actually higher than today?

      Because while the working/non-working share of the population influences economic growth, it’s a minor influence at best?

      Consider the labor force participation of women:

      In 1950, the overall participation rate of women was 34 percent. (See table 4.) The rate rose to 38 percent in 1960, 43 percent in 1970, 52 percent in 1980, and 58 percent in 1990 and reached 60 percent by 2000. The overall labor force participation rate of women is projected to attain its highest level in 2010, at 62 percent.

      Wouldn’t that offset any other demographic factors for the same time periods, at least in terms of people in the workforce?

      My off-the-cuff opinion would be that the biggest difference makers are going to be:
      1. Law of diminishing returns in various technological areas (Internet is biggest exception to that)
      2. Government consuming more and more of the productive economy via size increases (4x per capita inflation adjusted spending and 3x higher revenue) and increased regulatory burden

    • DeWitt says:

      So why did the economy grow faster in the 1960s even though the non-working share of the American population was actually higher than today? Old people gobble up money, but so do kids.

      Kids can’t vote themselves into receiving a plethora of benefits the way old people can and do.

    • Chalid says:

      You are thinking about the wrong measure. Economic *growth* can come from *change* in the employment/population ratio, not the level.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      At what age would kids typically start working in the 60s?

      Jobs for kids, even those jobs that are still legal for kids to take ( ), are disappearing. Most paper routes are now only doable by adults (I delivered papers from 10 – 14 in the late 80s early 90s, and then again from 26 – 28 in the 00s). Landscaping companies cut lawns. I assume teenagers still babysit, but I could be wrong about that.

      • Dack says:

        Kids are still able to be employed delivering newspapers according to the DoL. But I don’t recall seeing it happen for 10-15 years. I’m guessing newspaper companies just decided to stop doing it for some reason? Or is it that parents stopped letting preteen kids go around unescorted?

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Yes to the first. Many newspapers shifted to an early morning schedule (papers delivered to the door by 6 or 7 AM). With the loss of subscribers they also shifted to larger, more spread out routes that necessitate a motor vehicle to deliver.

  11. ana53294 says:

    One of the positions I’ve seen stated on the Internet, and that thoroughly baffles me, is that those who have a domestic worker should continue paying them despite not receiving any work. As a moral, although not legal, obligation.

    Like, why? No contract will state that, that’s for sure. If the government gives those who employ domestic workers a subsidy to pay for the furloughed domestic workers (like in France), sure, I’d say it’s your moral obligation to do the paperwork and pass along the money. But why should you be paying your own money for cleaning your house while cleaning the house yourself/living in a dirty house? I don’t think you should. Sure, you shouldn’t fire workers because they stopped coming. And if you’ve got a contract with your domestic worker that gives them a certain amount of paid vacation, you can pay them for what.

    But why anybody should pay for work they don’t receive while the government is the one that has decreed you shoudn’t be getting that work, I don’t see. If it’s the government’s fault, the government should pay for that. Maybe next time they get the idiotic idea of locking an entire country down, they’ll realize they don’t have the money for it, and they’re still paying for the previous time they did that.

    I can see why people would do that; those people are good employers. But that doesn’t mean those who don’t do that are bad. They just don’t go above and beyond what they should do.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      What does “should” mean? I think it would help to unpack it a bit. “Should” as in mandatory, definitely not. “Should” as in “the right thing to do”, that’s at the very least a reasonable point to discuss. “Should” as in “the world would be a better place if more people did it”, yeah, sure.

      Could be people just make up a meaning for “should” and move on, without spelling it out.

      • ana53294 says:

        It is seen as a moral obligation by the comments I’ve read. Verbs like have to and must are thrown around, too.

        Not in the general the world would be better if everybody did that sense.

    • Nick says:

      It seems hard to describe this as anything other than literal charity. And sure, you are obligated to help out those near you—if your brother or sister were cash strapped and you could help, you should, allowing some very important caveats. I think it’s harder to argue that for a domestic worker you employ, though. If nothing else, some other people come first, like your own family and close friends.

      • ana53294 says:

        Yes, exactly.

        I do think you have a moral obligation to help those close to you when they’re in need, as long as it doesn’t harm you or them: your parents, your siblings, spouse, children. A weaker one to help your friends and members of your community.

        A worker you hired is only due what any other worker is due by the law: fair pay for their work, and, if negotiated and agreed, vacation and sick pay.

        So I’m surprised by the number of people who see it as a duty.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I kinda see the point.

          Don’t get me wrong, I read one Ayn Rand book some 15 years ago, including the whole of John Galt speech, so I’m now psychologically incapable of approving forced charity.

          But relations go more commercial the larger the whole system is. Families live in literal communism. Corporations in (sometime savage) capitalism. Small firms and yes, domestic workers have some elements of feudalism: you count on your [maid] to get you out of deep shit when it’s her day off, the kid is sick and the inlaws are at the airport. But a small firm owner also tends to protect its employers. Lines are blurred. There is more loyalty involved. Sure, it’s far from being a given and probably affected by local culture as well, but it is a thing.

          It’s probably people with different experiences overusing their PoV. If you had a good long term nanny growing up, you will throw around words like “must” and “have to”. If you have a commercial relation with a cleaning lady that comes 3 times a week, you’ll be justifiably quite perplexed.

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, if it is the kind of worker who is willing to work extra when you’re sick, or wait for you when you’re stuck in traffic and the kids are waiting, sure, I’d say there is some degree of obligation, but only because it goes both ways.

            I don’t know where you get such domestic workers. The ones I’ve observed, they come, they work their hours, regularly leave, and demand increases in pay. There is no reciprocality, so I see no need for that.

            I’d say that if workers are willing to work for no pay when the employer is going through tough times, the employer has an obligation to pay for no work when the employees are going through tough times. But only as long as it’s reciprocal.

            I’ve seen way too many family businesses destroyed and families indebted due to giving personal guarantees for their businesses to keep workers. Workers were never thankful for those sacrifices, taking that as due.

            So I think that small companies need to cut their losses too, when they are starting to lose money, and fire workers.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I don’t know where you get such domestic workers. The ones I’ve observed, they come, they work their hours, regularly leave, and demand increases in pay.

            Like I said, most likely different experiences leading to different opinions.

            There’s also something else I thought of – moral foundations, yet again. Haidt says some people (usually “the left”) see most things through a harm/care framework. Some probably more than others. So if you take the more intense half of that and intersect it with people that have had the good kind of experience with domestic help – you end up with a pretty vocal minority.

            As far as my own opinion on this… I’m on board with using the “feudal” label and mindset. You receive loyalty and trust, you have to offer loyalty and protection. It’s the natural response – if the situation applies.

            But it’s a strictly personal decision for each individual instance, and nobody’s business but those involved. (I wasn’t kidding with that Ayn Rand quip btw, that speech is powerful stuff.)

        • DinoNerd says:

          Once upon a time, when working relationships were longer, there was mutual loyalty between employer and employee. The hypothetical person who cleaned my house for the past 10 years might not be part of my family in the same sense as my sister, but they are still part of my extended family in some sense, perhaps more so than a second cousin at 3 removes I’ve never actually met.

          This is a lot less true for whoever the cleaning service sent the week before the lockdown, who like as not wasn’t the same person they sent the week before.

          Your mileage clearly varies, or you only have the second kind of employeer-employee relationships.

      • edmundgennings says:

        Employees, particularly in the case of a long term domestic worker strike me as pretty high in one’s order of charity. Now the details of the arrangement matter a lot. The live in butler in a victorian estate who has worked for the family for his entire life is in a very different position than the recently hired maid who works for 20 different families.
        The Victorian butler comes in after one’s siblings and closest freinds but still relatively high.

        Then again I think that the best way to cash out the Catholic Church’s teaching on just wage that goes beyond paying the market rate and avoiding fraud is through the order of charity.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, I think that’s all true as far as it goes. Except that it sounds like the cases Ana is talking about are more like the hired maid who works for several families than the live-in butler? After all, the live-in butler can stay home and do his job. 😉

    • Dack says:

      I don’t know if “should” enters into it, but some people I talked to told me that they were continuing to pay for various services they weren’t receiving as a sort of retainer. In other words, they are saying (with money) “Don’t give away my spot in the daycare/martial arts studio/house cleaning schedule/etc.”

      If you consider your cleaning person/etc fungible, then no I wouldn’t expect you to continue paying them. But if you want that specific person back when this is all over, it may make sense to give them some money. Otherwise, they may already have a full schedule when you are ready for them to come back, or they may have even had to go find different employment entirely.

      • ana53294 says:

        I can see how paying the nanny who takes care of your children and has good chemistry with them makes sense. I don’t think it’s an obligation, though.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This is how I feel. You pay for things you aren’t getting any more, or pay some fraction, in the hopes that it increases the chances that the good or service will still be available when this is over. My gym gave people the option of putting memberships on hold, but indicated that it would be appreciated if those who could afford it didn’t. I want there to be a gym when this is over, so I didn’t put my membership on hold.

    • John Schilling says:

      There’s a plausible argument that pay (possibly at reduced rates) during temporary externally-forced work stoppages is implied by a normal agreement of employment unless explicitly agreed otherwise. I’d certainly consider it a breach of trust if my employer suddenly told me to take a week off without pay. As with any other implied agreement, it’s probably unenforceable, but it may be morally obligatory in the same way that e.g. tipping for good service is morally obligatory once you’ve ordered a meal at a restaurant in a customary-tipping culture. If, on the other hand, your employees have insisted that you hammer out an explicit contract with their union rep under penalty of strike, then they can’t really expect anything beyond what’s written in that contract.

      It is certainly morally virtuous to do so where practical, and it’s practically advantageous to do so where you expect the employment relationship to continue. The fuzzy parts are, A: whether the coronavirus lockdown counts as a “brief work stoppage” and B: whether domestic workers are employees or contractors. As a rough guideline, if you expect the same exact individual to be cleaning your house when this is over, you’ll probably want to keep them on retainer in the interim.

    • flauschi says:

      I continue to get paid 100% from university while working from home (or instead clean my flat, nobody cares). My cleaner (who has worked for me for about 5 years now) lost basically all her income and still had to pay rent. I paid her 50% of what she would usually get.

      i feel morally obliged to do so (and maybe to pay more than that, but obviously i am too cheap for that). i am not terribly interested in why i feel that moral obligation (i don’t claim my moral feelings follow any consistent system, and generally find it a bit silly if people pretend that theirs do). but i assume it is the combination of closeness/familiarity (i know the person) and fairness (why should i get paid and not she?) there may be lots of people or causes more worthy of donations, but as i said i am definitely not a utiliarist, and none of my immediate family or friends needs my financial assistence.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      “Morally obligated” is a strong claim; that I’m not sure of.

      That said: the woman who cleans my apartment does a great job, never causes me trouble, generally makes me happier and saner, and does all of it for an amount of money that I will not miss. I have positive social feelings towards her, and I’d like her to think well of me. So I’m paying her. In my case, I think this is the right thing to do, as frustrating as it is.

      (My ex girlfriend is instead just hiring her to come over and clean her apartment, which makes me feel a bit screwd over for paying something for nothing…)

      • We are continuing to pay the family that normally comes over once a week for a couple of hours to clean our house. Part of the reason is that we told them to stop coming before there was an official lockdown, since we had decided to self-quarantine. So at that point it was a matter of our telling them not to come, contrary to a well established pattern of employment.

        In addition to which, they are nice people and we can easily afford it.

        I don’t think we were or should have been legally obliged to continue pay them, it felt like the right thing to do.

    • I think the underlying intuition comes from the idea that servants are junior members of your family, for whom you are responsible. If circumstances beyond the control of either of you make the usual division of labor impossible, it’s still your responsibility to see that they don’t suffer, at least if you can manage it without suffering yourself.

      That intuition is less compelling when the “servant” is someone who spends a few hours a week in your house, and does the same for other customers, but it’s still there.

      Consider, as an analogous case, the widespread idea that people in America should care about the American poor much more than they care about foreign poor, and similarly for other countries. Your fellow citizens are part of a sort of very extended family, and all of us feel somewhat responsible for making sure that our fellow members are all right. That explains why people argue for immigration restrictions to protect the American poor, even if they realize that the immigrants who would come to compete with the American poor are much poorer and would gain much more than the American poor would lose.

      It makes much less sense in terms of free market relations among people, but our moral intuitions have not entire caught up.

    • psmith says:

      Noblesse oblige.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Just this. If you’re hiring domestic workers, maybe you have an obligation to start giving a little something back.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Also, if your state is open, go out to a restaurant and tip heavily.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      But that doesn’t mean those who don’t do that are bad. They just don’t go above and beyond what they should do.

      It does mean they are bad to those who think of this in the moral way you say they are speaking.

      Plenty of people think businesses in general are morally evil when they unilaterally make employment decisions- due to the implicit power differential# in the employer-employee model. If a person thinks this way morally, then it’s natural to extend the moral framework to domestic workers.

      I presume these people would be morally okay with a mutual renegotiation of terms between the employer and domestic servant (e.g. no work, so I’ll pay you a smaller retainer to immediately come back to work when I need it, what retainer would be good for you?).

      In terms of house cleaners and landscapers my main issue is how much more unkempt* the place will be when this is over and the employer wants cleaning done again. This will take extra time and labor on the part of the cleaner/landscaper. I hope the employer pays appropriately for this extra work. For other kinds of servants there are still the ramp up requirements after a long break.

      # – In the rare occasion where an employee wields more power than the employer I think people with this morality would think badly of the employee for leaving their employer in the lurch.
      * – If you can keep your place better than a person who specializes in this job, you might think about hiring someone else.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I’ve been dropping my barber the price of a haircut every month, mostly because I’ve known him for a long time and I shudder when I imagine having an honorable line of work that is flat illegal to pursue. I have no idea whether I am making any difference to his life: He thanks me for my generosity, but it’s got to be a drop in the bucket compared to his expenses.

      I don’t have any local restaurant that I have felt particularly bonded to, so while I am getting occasional take-out deliveries, I have been mostly unmoved by exhortations to patronize restaurants so they will survive.


      If it’s the government’s fault, the government should pay for that.

      It’s rare for me to feel charitably toward the government, but this is one situation where there are no good answers. The U.S. government is spending trillions of dollars that they don’t have and apparently aren’t even trying to borrow (who would they borrow it from?), just making it up out of air, and from what I hear it’s not really enough. It may be judged afterwards, or by some, now, that the near-universal lockdowns were a stupid idea, but it sure as hell didn’t strike me that way in early March. So I’m reluctant to try to analyze the situation in terms of “fault”. But I agree, what I give my barber is charity, not an obligation — except to the extent that he is in a bad place and I am fortunate to be in a good place.

  12. Deiseach says:

    Well, my anonymous Tumblr stalker has popped up again *waves “hello!” to him/her/them/it* with a pippin of a question regarding the manifold wants and needs of a woman:

    Is the reason you decided to be asexual that none of your partners was ever man enough to make you feel like a woman in bed?

    This is so sweetly jejeune, so artlessly callow, so candidly simple-minded, a view of How That Sex Thing Works For Women, that I’m still chortling.

    My dear interlocutor, should you be lurking, I told you there and I’m telling you here – saving that you’re the lovechild of Sigmund Freud and Havelock Ellis and your godfather was Frank Harris, you are too young and unworldly for an unexpurgated, full and frank answer to that 😀

    • Nick says:

      Is the reason you decided to be asexual that none of your partners was ever man enough to make you feel like a woman in bed?

      He used the singular! I’m impressed. Few stalkers have the presence of mind these days to compose their threats, love letters, insults, entreaties, jeremiads, cris de coeur, or philippics in correct English. It redeems just a little the otherwise awkward sentence structure.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, such command of the language is nothing less than I would expect from someone who I strongly suspect followed along after me from here or the sub-reddit 🙂

        One does presuppose a certain facility and ease, a set of high standards, in one’s stalkers if they are drawn from the pool of this community! Anything less would not be worth the candle 😀

      • Aftagley says:

        Wait, none is singular? I totally would have “were”d there. Basic Googleing shows me that none as a plural is synonymous as “not any” turning this phrase into “not any of your partners were…” which scans correctly.

        On the other hand, none a singular synonymizes to “no part” which implies that the individual parts of the lovers were insufficiently manly which… huh, actually works also.

        • Nick says:

          The singular means “not one,” which works here. Cf. the etymology. 🙂

          • Aftagley says:

            Right, that was a long walk to what was, in retrospect, kind of a stupid joke.

            Just so I stop doubting my grammatical sanity, the plural form would also be correct, though, right?

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, plural would be fine, certainly in vernacular English. I just noticed it because hardly anyone ever does it anymore, but should someone go all prescriptivist, that’s what they’d prescribe.

    • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

      How does one even stalk on tumblr – a site designed for maximum navigational confusion ?

      • Deiseach says:

        that’s why I think my little friend has followed me over from here or connected places, though I’m also constantly stumbling over people on Tumblr who I know from elsewhere and going “oh hey, it’s you!” 🙂

        I think it’s mostly to do with associated interests; if you and Elsie were part of the Fungi Fandom on some other site, then eventually if both you and Elsie are on Tumblr, and following Fun With Fungus blogs, you’re likely to meet once more.

  13. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    Does anyone know any good WW1/WW2 British/American patriotic song about victory and fighting the good fight? I want something simple, upbeat and easy to sing while walking. Maybe something like The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done, but with a more marching/chanting feel. Most other things I can find is either sad or about “my baby across the ocean” or whatever.

    Reason I’m asking is that I’ve got Tomorrow Belongs to Me stuck in my head and I’d like to replace it with something that is 1. authentic and 2. from the not-evil side.

    • johan_larson says:

      The Battle Hymn of the Republic is older, but plenty pugnacious.

      Or perhaps the Marines’ Hymn.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        Thanks! These are great!

        If anyone’s interested I also just found The washing on the Siegfried Line which is silly and very British, but quite catchy.

        • Aftagley says:

          Wait, did you just hear the battle hymn of the republic for the first time?

          If so, I am incredibly jealous. That song gives me goosebumps every time I listen.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            I guess I’ve heard the tune before but never really listened to the lyrics. But I got it on repeat right now. And it really gives the chills. 🙂

          • DarkTigger says:

            Seriously I only knew the other songs sung to this melody (“John Brown”, and “Blood on the Riser”)

          • SamChevre says:

            In the beauty of the lilies Christ was borne across the sea,
            With a glory in His visage that transfigures you and me,
            As He died to make men holy, let us die kill to make men free,
            Out God is marching on.

            It’s unforgettable words and a very catchy tune, but to me it will always be the jihadi hymn.

          • Robin says:

            @DarkTigger You don’t have abecedarian children?
            But seriously, I’ve grown fond of the song through the film The Hallelujah Trail.

      • cassander says:

        I think of the battle hymn of as the anthem of blue tribe going to war, written at a time when they made absolutely no bones about what they were doing and their motives for doing it. It really is magnificent, especially when they don’t chicken out on the last line. “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,” is one of the noblest sentiments ever expressed.

      • Bergil says:

        It should be mentioned the the Battle Hymn of the Republic is based on “John Brown’s Body”. If you only know “John Brown’s Body” from the chorus (as I did, from old cartoons) you might think it’s a funny song, but the full version is, in my opinion, even more awesome.
        I don’t know why they changed it, unless it was in some way too spicy for the 19th century.

        • littskad says:

          The tune of “John Brown’s Body”/”Battle Hymn of the Republic” was based on a song “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us?” which was sung in the camp meeting circuit in the United States in the late 1700’s. There’s an interesting article in the New England Magazine of 1890 on the origins of “John Brown’s Body” (available here, for instance). Julia Ward Howe apparently wrote the lyrics for “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the suggestion of a reverend friend after they heard soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body”. She claimed that she woke up the next morning with the lyrics whole in her mind and immediately wrote them down.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      While also significantly older, try Heart of Oak.

      We ne’er see our foes but we wish them to stay,
      They always see us and they wish us away,
      If they run, why, we follow and run them ashore,
      For if they won’t fight us, what can we do more?

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        Hearth of Oak is good at what it does, but it’s kind of campy (sorry brits!) for my purposes. Also not that melodic.

    • edmundgennings says:

      WW1 and WW2 seem oddly lacking in songs like this. There are more songs about the heroic resistance to the Hanoverian Usurpation (Jacobite risings) though many of these songs were written after the fact, than the world wars.
      The Ballad of Audie Murphy is probably the best example of your looking for but it is too complicated musically to fully replicate, There will always Be An England suffers from the same problem.

      But there are lot of good historical songs which match your description much better. Heart of Oak as mentioned before.
      The British Grenadiers is fun.
      The British Light Infantry is particularly amusing for the American Tory but the loyalist subtext is sufficiently vague that it is possible that it does not exist.

      But generally civil wars- wars of secession seem to generate a far better musical legacy than foreign wars.

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        Those British songs are a bit too old-fashioned to suit my purpose. They are more jolly than inspiring to me.

      • psmith says:

        there are lot of good historical songs which match your description much better

        In this vein, I’ve been known to get a few verses of Garryowen stuck in my head on long walks. Or “Men Of Harlech.”

        • Nornagest says:

          There’s so many different versions of “Men of Harlech” that it’s more a tune and a theme than a song as such. The most famous is the one from Zulu, but this one is my favorite.

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      Too bad you specify British/American (on account of being able to understand lyrics?). If you were to expand you criteria to include Russian, that would neatly include The Sacred War.

      (A bonus point: you can use lines “The rapists and the plunderers, / The torturers of people” to calibrate your irony meter settings at 11, given the conduct of Russians themselves during the war.)

      If we stick to English-only, I’m surprised no one mentioned Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition yet. I personally prefer Serj Tankian’s version 😉

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        The Russians sure knew how to make plain patriotic music for the common man. But I’m not sure that they count as on the not-evil side. :/

        Second song was exactly what I’m looking for! Thanks!

      • ana53294 says:

        I don’t know if the Russian song counts as “not evil”.

    • cassander says:

      The soviet (now russian) anthem is amazing, and I can’t hear it without wanting to run up a red flag and start slitting throats. If you’re not keen on praising great Stalin, there are a few sets of lyrics to choose from, and I’m sure you could come up with your own. Also, the history of the anthem is an excellent soviet union joke just on its own. the original lyrics were condemned in 1956, but not replaced until 1977, so for 20 years you were supposed to just sort of hum along with the tune.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        the original lyrics were condemned in 1956, but not replaced until 1977, so for 20 years you were supposed to just sort of hum along with the tune.

        This is still the case in Spain. La Marcha Real had no lyrics when first composed, but various sets were added later. It has officially had no lyrics since 1978.

    • SamChevre says:

      Might not be quite what you’re looking for, but Over There for WW1 and Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition for WW2 probably fit.

      Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy (for WW2) is very American, but not particularly patriotic.

    • S_J says:

      There was a song from WW1 era that made it into a patriotic movie during WW2.

      It’s titled Over There.

      Does that count as a victorious song, or similar as a marching/war song?

    • AG says:

      Pshhh, who needs lyrics? Humming Stars and Stripes worked great on my last hike. I actually put together a playlist of marches for this purpose.

      On the slightly comedic side, you’ve got this from film musical It’s Always Fair Weather, but that “March April May June” bit hits differently now…
      You could also go with whistling the Colonel Bogey March.
      And then there’s John Williams Is The Man.

      And finally, you can completely muddle any connection between lyrics and meaning by going with Aida’s triumphal march, featuring Italian words about Egypt beating Thebes, even though that kinda violates the “from the not-evil side” requirement. But that’s why going with foreign language lyrics is great.
      I mean, if actual squadrons can use Barbie Girl as their marching chant, why not?

    • Silverlock says:
    • Beck says:

      Sink the Bismarck by Johnny Horton maybe.

    • Robin says:
      To the melody known as the River Kwai March, perfect to be stuck in the head.

    • borkblue says:

      Ballad of Rodger Young

  14. johan_larson says:

    To be a member of the Megadeath Club, you must be principally responsible for at least one million deaths. The club considers both the total number of deaths and the applicant’s degree of actual influence over the events or policies that led to those deaths, when making membership decisions.

    Who are the living members of this most exclusive of clubs?

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      Most leaders and ex-leaders of the major powers could probably have saved a couple of millions of lives trough effective charity. But I wouldn’t really count their degree of actual influence to be big enough, since politicians typically are doing lots of stuff. That leaves us with colossal fuck-ups.

      The Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are big enough to have clearly caused a million deaths and fit quite squarely in the “colossal fuck-up” category, but the initial leaders are dead. Kennedy and Brezhnev would be good candidates if they were alive, though you could debate their degree of culpability. I guess we don’t take points of for good intentions?

      The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t really seem to have the numbers to make a million deaths, unless you count hard-to-define second order effects. Wikipedia claims that the “War on Terror” could have more than a million deaths, so maybe we can blame Bush for messing up the 9/11 response. Kind of hard to debate a counterfactual, but I can see a million lives saved by not invading in the ME and spending the TSA money on malaria nets. But is that realistic?

      The Second Sudanese Civil War and the Second Congo War are quite recent and seem to have death tolls well above a million. I don’t know much about these conflicts but I’m guessing the responsibility for them should be shared by a diffuse group of guerilla leaders and juntas, so no-one gets to enter the MD Club?

      About 700.000 Americans have died from AIDS. I knew the initial response to it was somewhere between lacking and a total disaster, but I wouldn’t blame it all on Reagan (who is dead, anyway).

      This got awfully US centric, but I guess that’s the streetlight effect. Russia and China are probably the best places to look. But then it gets kind of hard again. E.g. Would democracy in China cause prosperity equal to a million lives saved, or would it cause a civil war? How much could Putin really increase the wellbeing of the Russians?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        E.g. Would democracy in China cause prosperity equal to a million lives saved, or would it cause a civil war?

        I’m not sure this is sort of counterfactual is the right way to measure things. Consider the fictional country of Murderstan, where the West Murderians hate the ethnically distinct minority of East Murderians. In every universe without a foreign invasion to impose outside government, Murderstan ends up appointing a genocidal government based on popular support for its “Kill all the East Murderians” platform.

        The sort of logic you’re using seems to imply that whoever ends up overseeing the genocide doesn’t get into the Megadeath Club, because unless he managed to rack up a million deaths more than the marginal replacement dictator, he’s just serving market demand and so in a sense didn’t really cause those deaths. Viewed through a certain lens this seems perfectly reasonable to me: the West Murderian electorate is really what killed those people and Adolf Stalin-Zedong was just following orders. But this seems to obviously be a different lens than the one through which we normally talk about whether or not someone is responsible for a death. It seems intuitively weird to use a framing where we can say that political leaders don’t have great influence over their policies.

        • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

          Good point. Then it gets kind of hard to get any Chinese and Russians into the club? They haven’t caused any major wars. The Uyghurs are mistreated but not to the count of millions of deaths as far as I can see. China executes a couple of thousand people a year, which isn’t enough to add up.

          Another runner-up is North Korea.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            There are twenty-eight million people in Venezuela, I wouldn’t be shocked if you told me Maduro’s economic illiteracy has lowered standards of living enough to kill 4% of the population over his seven year term, and his terrible policies don’t seem like an inevitable response to popular sentiment.

    • Oldio says:

      If Covid-19 turns out to have originated in the wuhan biolab, would whoever decided to cut corners on safety procedures that week count?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        If it didn’t come from a lab, can we nominate the guy who ate that bat?

        • DarkTigger says:

          If he or she died, they should get the Darwin Award, and The Golden End of the Food Chain.

        • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

          Not a million deaths yet, bat guy will have to wait a couple of months.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Currently Covid is at 341k and over the peak. It will probably reach 1 mil eventually, but it’s not a given. And I’d really really want to see numbers of lives saved from reduced pollution. Problem is, those non-deaths are really hard to count – who’s gonna track 3% less Alzheimer in the next 50 years?

        • Ninety-Three says:

          If we’re counting reduced pollution for lives saved, we also have to count reduced economic activity leading to lower standards of living and lives lost. I find it pretty plausible that the recession COVID is causing kills more people than respiratory failure.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I don’t know. I’m fully in favor of reducing lockdowns now, and I’m sortof arguing against it but… are most countries really at the level where economic activity is coupled with survival? I’d think we passed that, sometime in the last 100 years. I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no, but I am saying that Occam is asking for arguments for increased deaths.

          • cassander says:

            @Radu Floricica says:

            We know that GDP is (weakly) correlated with LE and the money poured into covid related stuff is money that can’t be spent on other things. If a year from now GDP is lower than it would have been if we toughed it out and we have billions of dollars in masks and respirators lying around that no one needs, that is in theory going to lead to earlier deaths.

            Of course, lockdown is probably also leading to fewer non-corona related deaths by, say, reducing the number of car crashes. I’d actually be very curious to see how the raw death rate has changed.

    • Dack says:

      Kennedy, O’Connor, Souter.

      • Evan Þ says:


        • Dack says:

          9,282,663.8 and counting each. (Assuming we also attribute one fifth to the already deceased Blackmun and Stevens.)

      • Noah says:

        Are you counting all abortions in the US? Because even if states were permitted to ban abortions, many wouldn’t (setting aside what the rate of illegal abortions would be; I haven’t seen good attempts to estimate this, though they doubtless exist).

        • Watchman says:

          I kind of doubt they do, as that would imply the abortion argument has been conducted in goid-enough faith that one group or another has shifted from its all-or-nothing position. I don’t think either side would look kindly on that sort of defection….

        • Dack says:

          Are you counting all abortions in the US? Because even if states were permitted to ban abortions, many wouldn’t (setting aside what the rate of illegal abortions would be; I haven’t seen good attempts to estimate this, though they doubtless exist).

          These are fair criticisms; however, they are still firmly in the megadeath club even if we only count the total number since 1992.

          24,957,003 total 1992-2020 (estimated numbers 2017-2020)

          Let’s suppose that about 40% of those don’t happen due to red state bans.

          That’s still 9,982,801. Almost 2 million on each justice’s doorstep.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Henry Kissinger.

    • Is there anyone still alive who could be blamed for the Biafran war? I think that’s estimated to have killed about a million Biafrans and some smaller number of Nigerians.

      Similar question for the various Hutu/Tutsi conflicts, one of those claimed to be responsible having recently been arrested. Anyone surviving from the Khmer Rouge who was high enough up to be credited with a significant fraction of their body count?

      The famine during the Great Leap Forward killed many millions, I think the estimate I have seen is about thirty. Mao is dead, but there might be someone who you could claim was responsible for a few percent of that still alive.

  15. Orion says:

    I have a hazy recollection of seeing someone post on a recent open thread trying to recruit players to test a superhero-themed RPG they’d designed. I went back to look for the posts just now and can’t seem to find them. I was surprised to see them, in any event, because this hadn’t occurred to me as an appropriate venue to advertise such a thing. Does anyone else remember seeing them? Were they in fact deleted? If this is in fact a venue where one could recruit players, I’d be inclined to do some recruiting myself.

  16. Genarment says:

    Question for any history buffs in the audience.

    Many fictions nowadays try to supply sympathetic or convincing villains. Example: the movie The Rock (1996), in which a celebrated general takes over a prison to force the government to acknowledge black ops and compensate the families of those killed in such operations (not really a spoiler, it’s shown very early in the movie). Such villains often have a good point, even if their methods are over-the-top, poorly-reasoned, or hideously unlikely to work (*cough* Thanos *cough*).

    I’m thinking about those fictional villains, in movies, comics, manga, anime, books…and I’m wondering about their real historical counterparts. Did such extreme supervillain-esque plans ever actually work?

    Throughout history, what seemingly villainous acts or plans driven by good intentions have actually had a net positive impact on the world? Or which ones have at least accomplished the (unambiguously good) objective of the seeming wrongdoer? I’m willing to bet that the number is very low – that most such plans have horrible unintended consequences, or simply fail entirely.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You’d be surprised at the number of supervillain-esque plans that worked, but (unambiguously good) is a high bar to clear for them. If you believe monarchy (at least by a foreign dynasty) is unambiguously bad and democracy unambiguously good AND that the Republic of China really existed for awhile rather than the Qing immediately being followed by warlordism, Sun Yet Sen’s powerful international secret society dedicated to overthrowing the Chinese government basically made him the Mandarin without the crashed alien spaceship or “being written uncomfortably by white people”.

      • albatross11 says:

        How about the political conspiracy by British colonists in North America to break away from the crown?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Doctor Franklin, inventor/conspirator. Huh, I hadn’t pattern matched that before.

      • Aftagley says:

        Sun Yet Sen’s powerful international secret society dedicated to overthrowing the Chinese government basically made him the Mandarin

        I can’t tell if this is intentional and/or problematic. Regardless – well played.

      • Genarment says:

        I’d settle for edge cases of “mostly good” or even “their society would have considered it a good result in the end.” Still, this is a great example and maybe the best I’ve seen yet. Others have offered the French Revolution, the Irish Republican Army, Oda Nobunaga, and even Mao and the Great Leap Forward for possible further study. Forgive me for being poorly versed in Chinese history, but do we know why the Tongmenghui had a sub-goal “to expel the Manchu people”? Is this really a grudge based on a 300-year-old conquest? What other reasons were there to form this particular goal?

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Why does treason never prosper? Because if it prospers, none dare call it treason.

      There is your real answer.

    • cassander says:

      Oppenheimer built a bomb of previously unimagined power using super science in a secret government facility.

        • J says:

          Everybody knows the “now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” line, but that’s just the cherry on top:

          If a thousand suns were to rise
          and stand in the noon sky, blazing,
          such brilliance would be like the fierce
          brilliance of that mighty Self.

          All Dhritarashtra’s men
          and all these multitudes of kings–
          Bhishma, Drona, Karna,
          with all our warriors behind them–

          As moths rush into a flame
          and are burned in an instant, all
          beings plunge down your gullet
          and instantly are consumed.

          You gulp down all worlds, everywhere
          swallowing them in your flames,
          and your rays, Lord Vishnu, fill all
          the universe with dreadful brilliance.

          Who are you, in this terrifying form?
          Have mercy, Lord; grant me even
          a glimmer of understanding
          to prop up my staggering mind.


          I am death, shatterer of worlds,
          annihilating all things.
          With or without you, these warriors
          in their facing armies will die.

    • John Schilling says:

      What Belisarius Rex said. But from the outside view, top marks probably goes to the various schemes to conquer some significant portion of the world and impose a Pax Whateverica.

    • qwints says:

      Aside from the American development itself, I think the Soviets stealing the nuclear bomb probably ended up a net good for the world. I think the Korean War still happens, and McArthur might have convinced Truman to use nuclear weapons if the US was still the only country with the weapon. I feel like that’s net positive impact. You might even make the case that the Soviets goal was to prevent the US from using the weapon again and that was unambiguously good.

      • Dack says:

        Everything in Korea worth bombing was still leveled. I don’t see how that’s net positive.

        • Noah says:

          MacArthur might have convinced Truman to use nuclear weapons on Beijing.

          • Dack says:

            If they had wanted to bomb Beijing, they would have bombed Beijing. Nuclear or not.

            Tokyo and Dresden were not A-bombed, but suffered greater levels of destruction compared to Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they were fire-bombed. I don’t see a material difference, I don’t see a moral difference, I don’t think I could convince a survivor of Operation Meetinghouse (the single most destructive bombing attack in history) that it is somehow a net positive that “Hey, at least it wasn’t a nuclear attack.” on Tokyo.

          • Dack says:

            So the net positive is what? Gasoline savings to the attacker?

            Also I don’t think 1 a-bomb is enough to take out 1950s Beijing (Pop. 2-3 million). There’s a reason the a-bombs that were dropped targeted cities with only a few hundred thousand residents.

  17. souleater says:

    Is the “Gay Accent” something people are born with, or is it developed to fit in with the culture? Is it found in foreign culture (specifically Islamic, or Asian) It seems from my experience like it might be something innate.. if that’s the case, what exactly IS it? Does it have any interesting implications?

    • qwints says:

      Have you seen “Do I Sound Gay”?

      • souleater says:

        I heard about it, and that was what made me want to ask the question here. The reviews I heard told me it didn’t dive into it’s premise seriously

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      I have asked a few gay people and they say that they do it on purpose. So it is a learned trait intended to signal that they are gay. If you want your own data point make sure to ask politely.

      • Orion says:

        Some do it on purpose, some pick it up accidentally by spending a lot of time around other people with the same accent. There’s some evidence that some features of it may be inborn (particularly the sibilants).

        • Aftagley says:

          Quote Dave Sedaris, from his hilarious collection of essays, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” link

          I could have believed my mother and viewed my lisp as the sort of thing that might happen to anyone. Unfortunately, I saw no popular students. Chuck Coggins, Sam Shelton, Louis Delucca [going to speech therapy]: obviously, there was some connection between a sibilate s and a complete lack of interest in [football].

          None of the therapy students were girls. They were all boys like me who kept movie star scrapbooks and made their own curtains. “You don’t want to be doing that,” the men in our families would say. “That’s a girl thing.” Baking scones and cupcakes for the school janitors, watching Guiding Light with our mothers, collecting rose petals for use in a fragrant potpourri: anything worth doing turned out to be a girl thing. In order to enjoy ourselves, we learned to be duplicitous. Our stacks of Cosmopolitan were topped with an unread issue of Boy’s Life or Sports Illustrated, and our decoupage projects were concealed beneath the sporting equipment we never asked for but always received. When asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, we hid the truth and listed who we wanted to sleep with when we grew up.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      My recollection from my linguistics days:

      The secret is that “gay voice” doesn’t correlate with gayness as much a you’d think.

      When you have people rank perceive gayness of (male) speech, in general the big giveaway for people is from variation of pitch over time. In American English, whether your voice is high or low generally, the pitch of male speech is expected to stay within a comparatively narrow band, while female speech has wider variance. This is less true in other languages/cultures (Polish, IIRC, having more pitch variation expected of men than in English, and Slavic more so than Germanic languages generally).

      Thus greater pitch variation in male speech has the effect of signaling “gender nonconforming” broadly. “Sounding girly” etc etc. The standard leap to take from this is that men speaking this way have adopted a kind of accent from their feminine peers. Feminine -> gay is the cultural pathway for men. This doesn’t actually work out cleanly in the phonetics the way people want it to, but it’s the sound byte people understand. Southerners and Californians, for instance, have higher pitch variation than other Americans. Californian accents are often read as more feminine.

      The “lisp” (not a lisp, where s -> th but actually sort of the opposite where s ->sharper, more sibilant s) is frankly way less common than people think, and most common in children, and then doesn’t cleanly correlate with any of the stuff you’d think later in life. It may be its cultural coding went from infantilization->feminization->gayness, but my view is it started as an s-variant (some of which we as a society deem wrong and call “lisps”) and the cultural baggage came later and need not have been.

      There’s something interesting about vowel space/duration/something-wit-vowel which applies to both lesbian voice (identifiable, but less so, in those gayness-ranking studies) as well as gay voice but I don’t think it ever replicated.

      There are cultural variations of the gay voice in men, but a lot of the studies of this happened post gay liberationist America, which magnified and broadcast a lot of the stereotypes which now define gayness to the wider world and muddy attempts to navigate the moving parts. Globalization marches on. It’s hardest to study in the places it would be most interesting to study (North v. South Korea? swoon).

      As to innate ness, probably a blend in that it’s downstream of brain chemistry, but so tied up with cultural gender stuff and the bewilderingly intense feelings people have about talking “correctly” that I don’t expect the knots to come undone cleanly. The gayest voice I’ve personally encountered was a straight man whose native language was Arabic.

      The “gay man has undeniably gay voice before ever realizing he’s gay” is a nice story but people overestimate their gaydar. People clock sexuality from voice better than chance but only I the 60%ish range. The acculturation to feminine speech patterns thing is getting outside my domain. As to why it persists and intensifies in out men, I’d argue that’s part code-switching/cultural marking, as well as a side effect of behavior leading to sex/intimacy being behavior you’ll want to repeat, even subconsciously.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        The “gay man has undeniably gay voice before ever realizing he’s gay” is a nice story but people overestimate their gaydar. People clock sexuality from voice better than chance but only I the 60%ish range.

        I think this is misrepresenting the case. Not all gay people have “the gay accent”, and “all (or most) gay people sound it” is a substantially different claim from “all (or most) people who sound it are gay”. When you hear the most extreme caricature of the “lispy queer”, how many of those people do you think are straight?

        As to why it persists and intensifies in out men, I’d argue that’s part code-switching/cultural marking, as well as a side effect of behavior leading to sex/intimacy being behavior you’ll want to repeat, even subconsciously.

        I’m not usually that guy, but to put on my Robin Hanson hat, SIGNALING. Homosexuality is practically the perfect example of a preference that you would like certain other people to be able to recognize, and affecting a particular style of speech is a really good solution to the problem of other gay men not approaching you because they don’t know you’re gay.

      • AG says:

        Interesting, I have a perception that the American Southern drawl can obscure that gender correlation by changing it to an age or status correlation. A man with a higher-pitched voice going “Oh, bless yer heart, darling” doesn’t necessarily get dinged on his masculinity. On the other hand, a Southern woman saying the same thing does do slightly different enunciations (a kind of clucking affect), and a guy doing that does regain that GNC feel.

  18. salvorhardin says:

    I’ve been kicking around a steelman of “state capacity libertarianism” to try and come up with something concrete that could sensibly go by that label; that is a coherent set of things a reasonable person could consistently believe; and that the sort of people throwing around the term probably would mostly nod along to. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

    1. The highest priority for the state is the efficient and effective production of public goods, in the narrow sense of goods which are unusually nonrivalrous and/or nonexcludable. These include the night watchman functions but also the production of new scientific knowledge and the provision of natural-monopoly infrastructure, as well as certain genuinely public health and safety measures like cleaning the air and controlling infectious disease spread. If the state isn’t doing these things well, other things it does should be deprioritized and/or defunded as necessary to get it to do them well.

    2. There should be a strong though rebuttable presumption that consenting adults can do whatever honest, peaceful things they please with their own property without asking permission. Advocates of regulating honest, peaceful conduct by consenting adults should bear a burden of showing that the conduct to be regulated has substantial material negative externalities that aren’t feasible to internalize through judicial remedies (e.g. nuisance suits) or Pigouvian taxes, and that their proposed regulation passes something like the RFRA “least intrusive means of achieving a compelling state interest” test. Regulation should not be used to address mere aesthetic or pecuniary externalities, to paternalistically protect people from themselves, or to prevent “exploitation” or otherwise advance social justice goals.

    3. Redistributive social welfare or “social insurance” spending programs are sometimes justified on utilitarian grounds but should be subject to several operational constraints. Namely, they should: (a) work through empowering individuals whenever possible– i.e. if a program’s goals can be achieved by cash transfers or vouchers, those are preferable to other methods; (b) refrain from creating perverse incentives, e.g. extremely high implicit marginal tax rates; and (c) be long-term PAYGO, i.e. they should not result in an increase in the debt to GDP ratio over the course of the business cycle, even if countercyclically deficit-financed in downturns.

    4. Broad-based taxation, even at high levels, can likewise sometimes be justified on utilitarian grounds, but it should be designed to raise the revenue necessary to fund (1) and (3) on a long-term-PAYGO basis with a minimum of deadweight loss, and where possible to internalize externalities (Pigouvian taxes); taxation should not be used to reduce inequality or otherwise reward the politically favored and punish the disfavored.

    5. The goals of foreign policy should be, first, the gradual, measured, cautious step-by-step reduction of barriers to the free movement of people and goods; and second, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the public goods provision from (1) through international cooperation (so e.g. defensive alliances, international research partnerships, international environmental treaties). Military action in any but the most narrowly defensive context bears the burden of showing that it will so greatly advance these goals as to improve human flourishing in a way that decisively outweighs the damage it inevitably does; a large majority of historical military actions, including military actions by democracies in living memory, don’t meet this burden.

    What do folks think? Is this something you read and say “yep that sounds like state capacity libertarianism to me” and/or “yep that sounds what the George Mason or Reason or Niskanen Center folks (or whoever else is your favorite example) probably believe” or is it too vague, or too unlibertarian, or too unfocused on state capacity, to qualify?

    • cassander says:

      what about “The state shouldn’t do a lot, but what it does it should do well. In particular, it should try to stay the hell away from anything that distorts price signals or creates non-explicit costs.”

      • albatross11 says:


        Sometimes, you need government to do stuff that’s very hard to do via markets or donations or public-spirited donors or whatever. In most of your life, and most of the time, government shouldn’t be much involved–when you go to the coffee shop and order something to drink, or go get your hair cut, or go listen to a concert, the state shouldn’t really be involved unless some really exceptional thing happens. (*cough*)

        In order for that daily life to go well, though, there’s a lot that your government needs to get right. Public-access roads, flood control works, lots of public health stuff (mosquito and rabies control, for example), along with stuff like national defense and police and courts. And your daily life with little direct government intervention will go a lot better if the government does those things competently.

        Also, there are exceptional events which really work better with a government response. If there’s an invasion, a riot, an earthquake, or (say) a pandemic, you’d probably like a government response. But again, it’s really important for government to do these things well.

        In general, I think there’s a tradeoff curve here. The more competent and honest your government is, the more things it can do without making a mess of it, and probably the more things your government can do to the benefit of your citizens.

        At one extreme, imagine a not-very-competent-or-honest government. You want to keep its functions down to the minimal ones needed to allow your society to work–probably that’s down to courts, cops, soldiers, maybe public-access roads, common weights and measures, a few other things. Letting your government get into funding the arts or building big public works will mostly just end up with expensive boondoggles, not anything especially beneficial.

        At another extreme, imagine an extremely competent and honest government. You can afford to give it more functions. Maybe it can manage large-scale retirement savings programs without dipping into them, fund science and art and big public works and get a lot of bang for the buck, etc.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      Worth re-referencing the original article that came up with the term.

      The description you have is coherent and sounds like a pretty sane way to run a country. The biggest issue I have with the steelman you wrote is it has little to do with “state capacity” per-se. Take the Koyama and Johnson definition that Tyler links to:

      State capacity can be thought of as comprising two components. First, a high capacity state must be able to enforce its rules across the entirety of the territory it claims to rule (legal capacity). Second, it has to be able to garner enough tax revenues from the economy to implement its policies (fiscal capacity).

      By both of these measures the US federal government has extremely high state capacity. It has an ability to enforce its laws in all territory it claims and then some (FATCA is a good example of US laws followed by almost all financial institutions in the world). The US has substantially higher tax compliance than Germany and most of the Eurozone.

      By that definition “State-capacity libertarianism” reduces to just “libertarianism” in the US, which already has state capacity by the bucketload.

      “Competence in spending money” might be the missing factor here (especially for improving infrastructure and K-12 schooling, two areas Tyler Cowen mentions and which are already awash in money, with lackluster results to show for it). I have not seen basic conjecture, much less solid evidence, on how the US might be able to get more out of every dollar it spends.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      All those concepts sound reasonable and compatible with moderate libertarianism. But I’m not sure if they match state capacity libertarianism. Of course I never understood how the concepts as expressed by Tyler Cowen was related to libertarianism at all. If he expressed it like you have, I’d be fine with it. But Cowen’s discussion on this seemed incoherent to me. I may just not understand what he’s getting at.

    • matthewravery says:

      IMO, the only thing that gets “state capacity libertarianism” vice “libertarianism” is (1). The state should aggressively identify and correct market failures. A broad view of these is okay, so long as the state’s actions are efficient. Another conceptualization of this might be “Aggressively limit opportunities for rent-seeking,” though that’s probably too broad.

      Another aspect is legal. Clear and regularly-enforced laws are vital, as are unambiguous and uniformly-enforced regulations. Regulatory agencies should be independent of the industries they regulate in exactly the way that most US regulators today are not.

      It’s this last point where I think Cowen’s notion is most salient and differs strongly from a more traditional form of libertarianism. Most libertarians tend to adopt the view that government regulation and regulatory bodies should be weakened and dispensed with to the extent possible. A state capacity libertarian might think that regulations are useful for eliminating market failures attributable to externalities, and that if the regulations are necessary, then it’s vital that their enforcement be robust and independent. Robust to ensure that firms are competing on a an even playing field and independent to ensure that winning firms are the most efficient at making something rather than most efficient at playing rent-seeking games with the regulator.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I’m not sure that captures the “State Capacity” part of things, but it’s a good summation for moderate libertarian or maybe conservative thought, I’d say. It’s certainly a statement that closely captures my own personal feelings (minus a few American bugaboos. I’m willing to tolerate a higher level of negative externalities to preserve things like expansive 1A and 2A rights, for example).

    • LadyJane says:

      I don’t know if it’s a good description of State Capacity Libertarianism, but it certainly describes my own views to a T.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think this is a description of something coherent, but I’m not sure it does a good job of capturing what “State Capacity Libertarianism” is about and what is distinctive about it.

      A common slogan-ish understanding of “libertarianism” is “the philosophy that the government should be smaller”, and the size of the state is frequently expressed by the percentage of GDP that is state spending. “State Capacity Libertarianism” seems to be saying “not exactly smaller; it should do less things, but it should do them capably (no police who are so poorly paid and supervised that they are basically an extortion racket) and directly (not via work-arounds and kludges–setting up a national network of free clinics might be more libertarian than Obamacare even if it cost more.)

  19. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I hadn’t paid attention to Tara Reade, but reading up on recent news, I’m now 90% sure the assault didn’t happen, and at least 50% sure that she knows it didn’t happen. She lied under oath, as an expert witness, about getting an undergraduate degree, and had a string of excuses which in turn turned out to be lies. She left a long list of people angry at her lies and manipulation.

    It would really suck if Joe Biden’s one sexual assault ever was against someone who would later turn into a serial liar. He shouldn’t get away with it if it happened. But it didn’t. [1]

    Tara Reade seems to be another person, like Hunter Biden, whose one useful feature was to tell people “I know Joe Biden.” She used it everywhere to wheedle things out of people. And likely what she’s doing now.

    [1] If you want to drag Joe over the coals for not wanting to give other defendants the benefit of the doubt he has, go for it.

    • meh says:

      the short version starts about 40 seconds in

    • souleater says:

      I’m right wing and have problems with Donald Trump so I’m probably sitting out this election like I did last time. For these reasons, I’m not following the Tara Reid stuff closely, but I give the opinions of the SSC commentators a lot of weight due to the climate of fairness we have here. 90% sure they didn’t happen seems high to me, but like I said, I’m probably not following it as closely as you are. Do you have any biases that might be relevant here?.
      Politco isn’t a website I trust to be fair, but the first link is interesting to me. I’ll have to think about it more.

      The second link seems like the type of thing that could be written about a lot of people if a news organization set out to write a hit piece, then called everyone you ever knew over the course of 40 years. It doesn’t take that much for a few people who have butted heads with you decades ago to embellish the right things to push a narrative.

      It seems equally feasible for politico to write a story interviewing people who would attest to her character instead, but chose a negative slant for political reasons.

      This stuff frustrates me, because I don’t think I could see any evidence to convince me one way or another. So much is on the line, and so many people have a vested interest in swaying our collective opinions. I wish we could just make a national agreement to ignore sexual assault allegations against politicians if they happened more than a decade ago.

      • Evan Þ says:

        If you’re sitting out, why not vote third-party?

        • souleater says:

          I actually will vote third party, but I kinda see that as just writing down my protest vote, more than taking a partisan side

          Edit: I voted third party last time too, I’m not sure is I voted libertarian of constitution

          • Evan Þ says:

            I usually see it as a written protest vote too, but I view that as very different from sitting out the election. If I sat out an election, I’d be indistinguishable from my neighbor who blows off everything about politics. When I vote third-party, I’m telling everyone who looks at election results that I care enough to show up to vote, and that I dislike both the major candidates.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I’m probably not following it as closely as you are. Do you have any biases that might be relevant here?.

        I had ignored it for a while, but I saw it come up again in legal circles because a prosecution expert witness was lying on the stand.

        My stance on Tara Reade, previous to this, was similar to my stance on Christine Blaissey Ford: I wasn’t in the room, and I have no way of figuring out the truth. “Just listen to them talk and decide who is lying” is unlikely to inform me objectively.

        I’m probably going to vote for Biden. I had never painted myself into a corner of “believe women” so there was no need for me to invent weird counter-factual or dig through yearbooks or decide that Reade making small edits to an old Medium article was proof of anything or otherwise tear her down as a lying liar. There’s no need for that. I had moved on.

        There was a single credible accusation against each of Kavanaugh and Biden, which isn’t enough for me to throw them out. Maybe, if they had been revealed much earlier in the process, we could have said “why take the chance?” and selected someone else. But in each case this accusation was sat on and revealed past the point-of-no-return, so, nope.

        Just like you can probably find one accuser for each person, even if innocent, you can probably find one person in everyone’s backstory that would talk shit about them. But when a bunch of people proactively speak up “yes, this person has scammed me, and made it clear they thought I was the sucker who deserved it,” you are dealing with another category.

        And someone who deliberately sits on the witness stand and says lies in order to make money and send someone to jail, that’s an entirely different category than the story being slightly different in each re-telling. Reade had every opportunity to decide not to be an expert witness, to decide not to lie about her credentials, to not make up an additional this-is-easy-to-disprove-but-I-bet-you-don’t-have-the-guts-to-check-it-or-he-doesn’t-have-the-guts-to-accuse-me-of-lying lie of “it was a private arrangement between me and the President of the University.”

        So this person has demonstrated the willingness to say lies that cost other people dearly if it gives herself a relatively minor payout.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Your interpretation is plausible, and certainly these news stories do significantly raise the probability that Reade isn’t telling the truth. But 90% seems high to me because:

      1. as souleater says, the people Politico interviewed may have their own credibility problems and/or axes to grind;

      2. you have to figure out what to think about the people who corroborate that Reade told them at least about bad behavior by Biden, if not the full details of the alleged assault. Are they in on the scam? If so, it becomes a pretty complex coordinated effort to pull off. Or are they telling the truth about what she told them, but she was lying to them just as she lied to the media? If so, Reade did a fair amount of consistent lying to a bunch of people over decades when she couldn’t necessarily have known it would serve her purposes (e.g. Lydia LaCasse says Reade told her the story in 1995 or 1996).

      • Deiseach says:

        The contentious part of me says that if Edward Scizorhands is at least 90% sure Tara Reade’s accusation is false, then I think Tara Reade should be treated the same way as Julie Swetnick, who also made very exaggerated accusations. But such an accusation was also included in the heap of “evidence or at least hearsay that Kavanaugh is a bad ‘un”, including, I regret to say, some people within the rationalist community (which in turn has caused me to devalue their opinions, though it does prove their common humanity with the rest of we biased and prejudiced ordinary slobs: “this guy has particular opinions on particular causes where I am on side A and he is on side B, so I’m predisposed to think he’s a bad ‘un from the get-go, but I’m going to use what I think are fair evidential processes to prove he’s a bad ‘un, even if that means including the kinds of silly stories I’d toss out if they were about someone on side A of my position”).

        So I’d like it if all the media and bloggers and opinion piece writers and commentators, who are now saying this about Reade, had treated Swetnick the same way – instead of breathlessly repeating over and over that Kavanaugh was being accused by three different women of sexual assault and treating all three accounts as of the same level of credibility (including Yale alumni, which makes me downgrade my estimation of the graduates of that institution).

        To be fair, some outlets did give the same kind of treatment to Swetnick as Reade is now getting. But a year after Kavanaugh was sworn in to the Supreme Court, some outlets were still flogging the horse in regard to Deborah Ramirez’ story of ‘drunken frat party shenanigans’. Will the fearless reporters of the New York Times still be engaging in investigative reporting in order to bolster Reade’s accusation a year after Biden is elected president (should that ever happen)? Well, what do you think?

        • CatCube says:

          Yeah the part in this that makes me angry in this isn’t that Joe Biden’s accuser is getting investigated and the story found to be wanting. It’s the sheer, rank hypocrisy in which the accusations against Kavanaugh didn’t.

          Tara Reade’s story was always weak. She didn’t have a place or date nailed down enough that Biden could effectively defend himself. One of the easiest ways to defend yourself, after all, is to prove you were elsewhere at the time of the alleged incident. If the accusation doesn’t have a place or time, though, how can you find an alibi?

          But Ford’s story had the same flaw! And you were a woman-hating monster for pointing that out! Seeing people ready to set themselves on fire in the Rotunda about Kavanaugh not getting canned due to accusations flimsy enough that couldn’t either be proven or disproven who then go on draw little circles on the floor with the toe of their Birkenstocks and mumble about how, well, Reade’s story has a bunch of holes and she seems dishonest so why should we hound Biden mercilessly? is enraging.

          A wider problem for both is that these seem to be such isolated incidents. Joe Biden just forcibly fingerbanged one person and never tried anything like it before or since? Kavanaugh was supposed to be a scumbag rapist unfit to be a dogcatcher, but never sexually harassed his clerks?

          When you look at examples like Cosby, Weinstein, Lauer, etc., once somebody works up the courage to make an accusation, a whole river starts gushing out. Where’s the accusations (even anonymous) after Reade came out saying, “Oh yeah, Biden once bent me over a desk and rubbed his crotch on me. Fully clothed, but still….” or after Ford, “Yeah, Kavanaugh once showed me his dick at the Christmas party.” The people with the mental defects that make them treat subordinate women this way typically don’t just start and stop with one; it’s part of who they are and how they interact with people.

          But Kavanaugh can get viciously slandered for months by the media, while Biden gets the actual benefit of the doubt that both should get.

    • edmundgennings says:

      My sense from a close friend who is and works with expert witnesses in civil cases is that far more egregious lying and misrepresentation about educational background is rampant in civil cases. Ie witnesses claim to have the PHD with honors at a university which does not grant honors in the PHD program, or claim to have gotten their PHD specializing in whatever is relevant to the case. Or have done post doctoral studies in X at Y meaning they got their PHD in some entirely unrelated field and attended a conference on X at Y. Thus these people formal training in the field he is claiming to be an expert in is less than 15 hours. People introduce themselves as Doctor N. despite not having a doctorate. “My friends call me doctor” This types of things can be demonstrated to the judge and not merely are these people not rejected in shame and possibly charged with perjury depending on details, their testimony is accepted and they continue to be professional expert witnesses happily despite their fraud being relatively open knowledge.

      If Tara’s Reid’s high profile can start a crackdown on expert witnesses credential fraud, I would be happy.

      Given the pervasive over representation of credentials by expert witnesses (in civil, not sure if this transfers to criminal), the relatively minor misrepresentation that is not particularly relevant for expertise and then snow balled makes her look like a run of the mill shady character which certainly damages her credibility but not as much as if she were a unique case.

      • Well... says:

        witnesses claim to have the PHD with honors at a university which does not grant honors in the PHD program, or claim to have gotten their PHD specializing in whatever is relevant to the case. Or have done post doctoral studies in X at Y meaning they got their PHD in some entirely unrelated field and attended a conference on X at Y. Thus these people formal training in the field he is claiming to be an expert in is less than 15 hours. People introduce themselves as Doctor N. despite not having a doctorate. “My friends call me doctor” This types of things can be demonstrated to the judge and not merely are these people not rejected in shame and possibly charged with perjury depending on details, their testimony is accepted and they continue to be professional expert witnesses happily despite their fraud being relatively open knowledge.

        You’re describing journalists. (Actually journalists have even weaker credentials but are even more widely believed and respected.)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Is this just a dig at journalists, or is there some common tendency for them to fake their degrees?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            This is a very weird hobbyhorse of Well…’s that he’s brought a few times without ever defending.

          • Well... says:

            @Scott: I don’t think journalists typically fake their degrees. Maybe they should, since journalism is essentially the superficial impersonation of the kinds of authority that tends to come with advanced degrees. This isn’t a dig at journalists by the way, just an attempt to describe journalism for what it is instead of what it dresses itself up as.

            @Eugene Dawn: Yeah, it’s a hobbyhorse. I’ve certainly defended it. Many times, including in the comments you linked to!

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Yeah, that’s unfair; I even thought of editing my comment to be more precise but in the end decided to leave it. What I really meant was that your defenses were almost entirely based on your own repeated assertions with no evidence, but I don’t really want to get into this for real, so I’ll withdraw the claim.

    • mtl1882 says: She lied under oath, as an expert witness, about getting an undergraduate degree, and had a string of excuses which in turn turned out to be lies.

      In past threads that discussed what made something “credible”, I have mentioned that the Larry King episode was, to me, significant enough to make me view the allegation as plausible/credible. By that, I didn’t mean I thought it was probable or that I believed it. Just that it indicated something went on before any of the current political drama started, which I give more weight to than most other factors. I said one of three things were true: 1) it happened basically as she said, 2) there was an incident(s) but not what she describes, the kind of thing one might go to the media over, which meant it was probably about Biden’s conduct (maybe more mild sexual harassment), or 3) she has had some sort of mild “vendetta” against Biden all these years.

      Afterwards, I reflected that it may have come across as though I was portraying #3 as an absurd suggestion relative to the others. I wasn’t. There are a lot of people who develop negative feelings about someone and occasionally repeat them to others over a long period, without any grand plan to blackmail the person when they become super famous. When I say the Larry King episode means something went on, it could be as simple as that, while she worked for him, she developed a personal animosity toward Joe Biden. This could be for a good reason, a bad reason, or an incomprehensible reason. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it is easy to imagine a situation in which the job didn’t go well or she was fired, and she rationalized this to her mother, her friends, and even herself by making false or exaggerated claims. I think stuff like this happens all the time, and not by people who are obviously “crazy” or diabolical, though they probably have a pattern of lying to explain things away.

      Since then, a number of stories have come out indicating that such a pattern may be present here. There are clearly people with a desire to discredit her at all costs, so I’m wary of believing rumors without contemporary evidence. But it would not surprise me to learn that this is the case.

    • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

      The expert witness thing like the Trump-Ukraine accusations is far more worrying because of the underlying institutional rot that it sheds light upon – how can someone be recognized as an expert witness with such low level of diligence about confirming their credentials and level of expertise ?

      • Nick says:

        I’m reminded of the Baffler piece “Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard.”

        • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

          “Ongoing Online Visiting Professor since 2007 for various Student BA packet reviews: Review the final papers with students via phone and email; provide guidance for final BA,” reads one line from her résumé.

          That’s one creative use of the word ‘Professor’

      • Aftagley says:

        how can someone be recognized as an expert witness with such low level of diligence about confirming their credentials and level of expertise ?

        You’re thinking about it from the wrong persective. Put yourselves in the shoes of the lawyer who’s hiring this expert witness. You want someone who is cheap enough for your client (or almost certainly your client’s insurance) to be able to pay for and will reliably say what you want them to say and be able to hold up under cross examination.

        Actual status as an expert is secondary to being able to convince the jury/judge of whatever position you want to… and if one side has an expert witness, the other side likely has another expert being paid to say the exact opposite of whatever you were saying, so it all comes down to charisma anyway.

        And think about it – what actual “expert” in their field is willing to put their practice on hold for a couple of days and spend all day in court so they can be aggressively questioned by lawyers? You never get actual “experts” you get people who have established themselves as being reliable interlocutors for either plaintiffs or defendants and this is how they earn a living.

        Personal aside: This might be an artifact of growing up in a family of opinionated lawyers, but for a long time I thought the word prostitute was just how you refereed to the kind of person who makes his living as a professional expert witness.

        • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

          Except in this case the lawyer hiring this expert witness was the prosecutor, paid by the state.

          IANAL so I don’t know what options and obligations the defense lawyer had for challenging or scrutinising expert witnesses, but the fact that this can happen when it was supposedly should have been preventable by both sides is what I mean by institutional rot.

          And I’m not even talking about where we as a society should want to see the bar for expertise in courts proceedings placed, just about being able to carry out the simple act of verifying that the expert witnesses actually posses the credentials they claim to.

  20. matthewravery says:

    Today, The Lancet published a large study on the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine and similar drugs on COVID-19. The study includes data on 96k COVID-19 patients, about 15k were treated with Hydroxycholoquine or something similar.

    Beyond the headlines (these things don’t appear to work and may be actively harmful), they have tons of estimates for relatively risks from demographic characteristics and comorbidities. One thing of note, given recent discussion on this blog, is that “current smoker” is a comorbidity that increases likelihood of death by ~30% (~7 to 56% w/ 95% confidence).

    Important to note that folks weren’t assigned to treatment or control groups randomly, so there’s likely some selection effects occurring with who got one of these drugs and who didn’t. The authors use propensity scores and the litany of aforementioned demographic covariates and comorbidities to try to control for this, but it’s not quite the same as a randomized trial. Having said that, to overcome the significantly negative effects some of these medications seem to have on outcomes, you’d have to assume very strong selection effects.

    • broblawsky says:

      Good god, ACE inhibitors have a hazard ratio of 0.509. How does that work?

      Edit: I see – ACE inhibitors weren’t being given to people with COVID; it’s the hazard ratio for people with ACE inhibitors vs those without. That’s still a large impact, though.

      • matthewravery says:

        It’s a huge effect. I recall reading articles about blood clotting being an unexpected cause of death among younger COVID-19 patients. This suggests that immediately putting everyone diagnosed with COVID-19 on blood thinners might save a ton of lives.

        Interestingly, patients treated with ACE inhibitors had the same rate of ventricular arrythmia (the other outcome highlighted in the Lancet article) as those who were not being treated with ACE inhibitors. Not being a doctor, I have no idea if this is consistent with the above or contradictory to it.

        • Cheese says:

          ACE has not much to do with coagulation as a direct effect. ACEis are antihypertensives. They may have some small effect on coagulation in that vascular and haemodynamic disturbances tend to have broad and far reaching effects but probably not enough to matter.

          Basically everyone with severe COVID in all major hospitals worldwide is getting prophylactic anticoagulation if they’re in a high dependency to ICU level of hospital care. Some suggestion that the hypercoagulability is such that normal prophylactic doses aren’t enough and you have to move to what we would term theraputic doses (more). The issue is that obviously risk of bleeding increases, so I don’t think putting everyone with positive disease on heparin/equivalent would really be a great solution. Depends on the relative risk of bleeding. Usually it’s an individual assessment in terms of patient risks.

          I’m not aware of any direct connection between ACE inhibition and ventricular arrythmias. It’s unlikely they prevent or cause in any meaningful way. As compared to say, hydroxychloroquinine or Azithromycin which both have QTc prolonging effects and thus can precipitate ventricular arrythmias in those who might be predisposed (e.g. be old, have a few complications and be infected with a virus that directly or indirectly inflammes the heart). To be honest the whole HCQ+Azithro thing is very annoying. Increased risk of death due to arrythmias was an entirely predictable outcome due to the aforementioned effects and why they haven’t been used in moderate to severe (ie hospitalised) COVID patients in my country. I still think there’s a reasonable prophylaxis argument for HCQ but we need to wait for better data.

          There’s been a bit of back and forth about ACEis and ARBs since the start of the pandemic. Some arguing ACE2 upregulation caused by the drugs might worsen initial infection. Others arguing that with hypertension as a risk factor for death from COVID19 as well as other things that stopping them might be worse. We now have good data that they’re neutral to protective. Interesting that there’s a dramatic ACEi vs ARB difference. This suggests perhaps a direct ACE2 effect. Although it would be hard to disentangle from the antihypertensive effects modifiying that risk factor given that ACEi are largely still first line for hypertension compared to ARBs. Unlikely we will know why or be able to predict other theraputic avenues from it for a while.

  21. qwints says:

    This is an explanation of some recent online drama that seems to me to break a few of my expectations about the people involved. The drama itself will likely to have little-to-no effect on the world, but I think it’s a good case study in some social dynamics.

    New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino wrote a blog post a couple days ago discussing her father’s prior conviction for fraud. Essentially her father and his mother ran a business in which they recruited teachers from the Philippines to work in the US and found school districts to hire them. The conviction relates to obtaining visas using job offers which had been rescinded before the visa application was fired and resulted in a few months probation but significant asset forfeiture. Tolentino’s piece portrays this as her father being unfairly forced to take a plea because the school district lied about when they rescinded the job offer to avoid liability.

    For context, Tolentino is generally considered to be an exceptional essayist who has a large professional network. One of Tolentino’s first media jobs was at the website Jezebel (part of Gawker) and one of her early New Yorker articles was a 2016 profile of a podcast called Chapo Trap House (“CTH”), which has been a central part of leftist media for the last few years. CTH and other more leftist media (which I’ll call “the Left”) have been exchanging criticism (sometimes personal) with more moderate and prominent media (“Liberal”)since the 2016 election, but Tolentino has not really been a part of this despite being very much in that milieu. A few dozen to a few hundred people appear to rely heavily on this interplay for their income, either writing about it freelance or raising funds via things like Patreon – CTH has the single highest revenue there at over $150,000/month.

    Tolentino’s essay was widely praised, and there were numerous people who offered expressions of support, including writers at publications like the New York Times, Vox and the Atlantic as well as leftist activists, Tolentino stated her motivation for writing the piece was that it was being discussed on a subreddit associated with a small podcast called Red Scare run by two women with some social connections to the New York leftist media scene and an unusual worldview

    In the last 48 hours or so, Tolentino’s essay and the reaction to it has been highly discussed on left-of-center social media and has become a hot topic in the left-liberal feud, with many lower-level Left media figures arguing that Tolentino’s parents’ crime was more serious than she portrayed, and that people shouldn’t express public support for her because of that. It’s a weird dynamic because essentially everyone agrees that Tolentino doesn’t have anything to do with the crime, and the issue is long resolved. There’s also a values conflict where organized labor has tried to denounce the hiring of immigrant teachers without opposing immigration by portraying the system as abusive to the immigrant teachers. The highest profile mention of the case prior to Tolentino’s most recent essay was a 2009 teacher union report.

    This may fizzle out quickly, but it’s been interesting to see a dynamic for a few reasons. Tolentino was apparently motivated to write the piece by very low level discussion she found actively searching for mentions of herself, presumably out of loyalty to her parents. That response significantly the news itself (Streisand Effect) and the people who brought it up in the first place. All sorts of internal discourse norms are being violated – people’s families are normally off limits, ICE is generally considered bad, and posting addresses is normally considered doxing. It reminds me a lot of the initial stages of prior media controversies where the focus quickly shifted from the original accusation to attacking the coordinated response to that accusation, but I’m not sure I’ve seen that no the left before.

    • Aftagley says:

      It reminds me a lot of the initial stages of prior media controversies where the focus quickly shifted from the original accusation to attacking the coordinated response to that accusation, but I’m not sure I’ve seen that no the left before.

      How much traction is this getting on the dirtbag left?

      • qwints says:

        Tough to say – it was the outrage of the day but appears to be fading. Nothing above the level of social media and the people with the largest platforms have stayed pretty silent.

    • Bobobob says:

      Tolentino was apparently motivated to write the piece by very low level discussion she found actively searching for mentions of herself, presumably out of loyalty to her parents.

      This is why ego surfing is a bad idea, if you don’t have really thick skin.

    • j1000000 says:

      “In the last 48 hours or so, Tolentino’s essay and the reaction to it has been highly discussed on left-of-center social media and has become a hot topic in the left-liberal feud, with many lower-level Left media figures arguing that Tolentino’s parents’ crime was more serious than she portrayed, and that people shouldn’t express public support for her because of that.”

      Do you have links to those tweets? Are they saying that she’s covering something up, or leaving out details? Or just that doing exactly what she described is indeed more problematic than she makes it sound?

      • Aftagley says:

        From a quick survey of the tweets backed up by a bit of dedicated googling. I’m not 100% sure if this is true, but here’s the stream of allegations:

        1. It looks like her parents’ company would pay for (allegation: bribe) school district officials to fly to the Philippines and interview candidates to be teachers. These interviews were managed by the company.

        2. Interviewees paid the company around $10,000 if they got selected, and then were on the hook to pay some ongoing percentage of their income to the company. They did this because they were told doing this would get them a good life and US citizenship.

        3. Once in the US, it’s alleged that the company held onto the migrants’ passports and documents, had them live in badly-built structures and controlled their ability to move freely.

        4. The workplaces of the migrants’ also allegedly took liberties with the migrants.

        5. In some cases the promised jobs didn’t actually exist. In this case, the migrants would hopefully find other jobs… but, not always as teachers.

        In short, it might not have been what you think of when you hear “human trafficing” but it certainly wasn’t as rosy as she portrays it. At the absolute best, those migrants were facing a significant power disparity and at worst were kinda being farmed for profit.

      • qwints says:

        The former, aftagley summed it up well. Here’s a good example . To be clear, Tolentino is saying the exploitative stuff in the indictment did not occur at all, and that her dad only pled because asset forfeiture, legal costs and harsh treatment in jail compelled him to.

  22. Matt M says:

    Somewhat related to the HCQ discussion below… how exactly do “side effects” work in the medical field?

    I’ve always been under the impression that it’s basically binary. A specific person will either experience side effects, or they won’t, and that the side effects will manifest and become apparently relatively quickly. So if a drug is known to cause side effects “in 10% of people” what this means is that 10% of people will experience side effects, not that each individual pill consumed has a 10% chance of causing a side effect in whoever takes it.

    So if someone has been consistently taking a certain dose of a certain medication for some time, and has not experienced side effects, it can be assumed that they are unlikely to experience side effects at all. It is not the case that if a medication has a “side effect rate” of 10%, then for every 10 pills you take, you should expect to experience roughly 1 side effect.

    Am I way off base here?

    • matthewravery says:

      I think it depends on the drug and the side effect.

    • Anteros says:

      I’m not a medic, but your description is pretty much exactly my understanding of side effects.

    • Buttle says:

      That has not been my experience. I was once prescribed lisinopril for hypertension. The doctor warned me at the time that a persistent cough was a known side effect, but that it might take a while to manifest itself. After several years (sorry, don’t remember how many), it did, necessitating a change in prescription.

      Some time later I told this story to my mother, who said that she was on the same medication. She told me that our relatives were concerned about her, because of her persistent cough. She said she wasn’t sick, she just couldn’t help coughing. A new prescription for her and all was well.

    • Kaitian says:

      For some side effects your argument is true, for example if .1% of people are allergic to some drug, that probability will be much lower in people who weren’t allergic at the start.

      But most side effects have some non-zero chance of happening after some time even if you didn’t get them initially. And there are many side effects that only ever manifest after you have been taking the medication for a while.

    • Cheese says:

      You are broadly on base, but with exceptions. Broadly, I think people should be wary of a ‘rationalist’ approach to medicine. We don’t have a true understanding of what is an incredibly complex interacting system, such that what we might think is the logical effect of some treatment or effect is often proved to be completely wrong by clinical data.

      Things can change over time, or there can be issues which might manifest as long term consequences which aren’t apparent in the short term. Someone below mentions their issues with ACE-induced cough, which is typical of the progression of that particular side effect. A change in an indirectly related parameter or system may precipitate a specific side effect. Others like SSRI mediated gastrointestinal effects work differently in that they affect a lot of people early on but attenuate reasonably quickly in many.

  23. Bobobob says:

    What is your go-to website for reliable, nonpartisan, just-the-facts world and national news? I can no longer deal with CNN and NBC News.

    • SamChevre says:

      I wouldn’t say “non-partisan”–it’s very much a cosmopolitan liberal paper–but The Economist seems to usually get the facts right and concentrate on the important ones.

      • Loriot says:

        Note that this is “liberal” in the traditional sense, i.e. Free Markets Good Government Bad. Although, they’ve become more liberal in the US sense over time, mainly due to Republicans going off the deep end.

        • Buttle says:

          They’re consistently anti drug war, pro “free trade” agreements, pro gun control, and pro climate alarm. Their obituaries are excellent. I was a paper subscriber for quite a few years, but gave it up recently (it’s fairly expensive).

          • Their obituaries are excellent.

            Including the one where they credited Mao with ending famine in China?

          • Elephant says:

            The Economist’s obituaries are excellent. This does not mean that every single obituary is excellent. In the same way, your comments are excellent…

          • Buttle says:

            I think the Mao obituary was before I became a subscriber, I do not remember it. As Elephant hints, uniform excellence is truly a high bar.

          • Eternaltraveler says:

            As Elephant hints, uniform excellence is truly a high bar.

            i gotta say, crediting the one who committed genocide with ending genocide, has got to lose whoever does it a heck of a lot credit for a hell of a long time. Especially if their primary role is as an information source.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “Today, we mourn the passing of the hero who killed Adolf Hitler.”

      • OutsideContextProblem says:

        I like the Economist enough to pay for it, but it’s very far from ‘just the facts’. It reports selectively, and normally writes stories into narratives with a clear view point. The BBC and Reuters are good for ‘just the acts’.

    • Dack says:

      I’ve been going to Reuters. I don’t think they are ideal, but I haven’t found anything better.

      • Anteros says:

        Funnily enough, I’ve been procrastinating over stopping reading the BBC (which drives me nuts) and both Reuters and The Week (mentioned by @AG just below) are my potential alternatives.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Whenever I see someone mention the BBC on SSC I have to stop for a second and figure out if they’re talking about BBA or HBC.

    • AG says:

      Web news is always captured by the need to attract clicks.
      Every time this subject has come up, I recommend the The Week magazine (their online branch is garbage, though).

      Otherwise, listening to NPR on my commute (and not even every day, or in the afternoons) isn’t completely non-partisan, but gets me enough of the gist and highlights.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      The BBC web page. Slightly left-leaning, but only slightly, and extremely reliable and with a high facts-to-analysis ratio.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      I recommend for this. It isn’t a news source in its own right, it’s a news aggregator that categorizes the sources it aggregates from according to political bias. In the absence of more ideal journalism, I find I’ve had to settle for looking across the spectrum and sifting facts out of what multiple sources agree on.

      • Bobobob says:

        Wow, looks great. I love those little LLCRR boxes under each article. Thanks!

        • Bobobob says:

          For example, I found this article, which is an interesting SSC-style analysis I would never have come across otherwise (I’m not sure I’m convinced, but it certainly echoes some views that have been expressed here):

          How Fear, Groupthink Drove Unnecessary Global Lockdowns

          • matthewravery says:

            Off-topic, but the linked article makes the common mistake (by folks who like the “lockdowns” and folks who don’t!) of not having any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to interpreting models. They take predictions made ceteris parabis and gnash their teeth when people change their behavior and then the modeled estimates no longer seem to match up.

            (This criticism is independent of the rest of the material in the article, which in my view is right about some things and wrong about others.)

    • Well... says:

      reliable, nonpartisan, just-the-facts world and national news

      That’s a non-sequitur. What makes the news the news is the posture it assumes, intended to make it look reliable and nonpartisan, when it isn’t. News that didn’t assume this posture wouldn’t be news. Content that actually had the qualities you listed wouldn’t be news either.

      If you want intelligent discussion from a wide range of viewpoints about things that are going on in the nation and the world, read SSC comment threads and post questions about whatever you want to know about if you don’t see it already being discussed.

  24. johan_larson says:

    In a recent video, Jason Pargin, formerly Executive Editor of the humor site, answers at length an interesting question about how the shift from browsing the internet on PCs to browsing on phones forced a shift in how articles had to be written to get attention.

    TL/DR: In the PC era, people had their own bookmarks, and periodically visited a manageable set of their favorite sites. In the mobile phone era, nobody sets bookmarks. Instead people use aggregator sites (particularly Reddit and Facebook) and follow links to whatever looks interesting wherever it happens to be. This meant that in the PC era, writers and editors had some room to maneuver, and because they had built a certain level of trust with their audience, which meant they could write about some unlikely topics, confident the regulars would read whatever they published. In the phone era, because the readership is so much more transient, it is much more important to grab eyeballs by being immediately interesting, often by writing about something provocative or threatening.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      I don’t think the issue is bookmarks. The issue is that once the internet became mainstream, everybody and their dog started to write articles, and the ensuing cutthroat competition resulted in a race to cater to the lowest common denominator.

    • Bobobob says:

      I’d be curious to know what the percentages are now of people browsing on phones vs. browsing on laptops.

      I used to deal with this issue all the time–I wrote/managed a site for a (once major) national platform, netting myself a couple of million page views per month. It was fascinating to use Google Analytics to see how people were accessing the information, but as of two and a half years ago (when I left) it was only about 20 percent phones and tablets.

      • Kaitian says:

        Doesn’t it really depend on what kind of site it is? Like, very technical pages where most people would access them at their job probably still get most of their traffic from laptops and PCs. But most general interest sites with short form content are probably 80% mobile these days.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Counterpoint: I use bookmarks on my phone quite a lot.

      • Nick says:

        I didn’t know it was even possible to bookmark on my phone. But I don’t do much Internet browsing on my phone. That’s all on my PC, where I do bookmark.

        …Now that I’m checking, it turns out I’m logged into the same account, so I can access them from my phone. And huh, apparently I have 501 bookmarks.

    • Aftagley says:

      Man, kind of a hard interview to watch for me.

      I used to work for Cracked as a freelancer and contractor. I both wrote some articles and was one of their community managers/first-line editors. We basically did the initial reviews of community submissions, and helped people get a suitable first draft together before bringing it to a senior editor. I got an inside look at the site from it’s relative peak until it fell apart.

      While what he’s saying is true… the shift away from standalone platforms and towards social media aggregators back then definitely played a part, but the site also made a bunch of other unforced errors. They chose to pursue strategies like the pivot to video, expansion of columnists and content bloat that had a major effect on Cracked’s quality and reputation. I love the site and community and learned so much about writing online from Jason, DoB and the rest of the team, but I think he’s trying to spin a cohesive narrative out of a million tiny factors here.

      • Nick says:

        You call pivot to video an unforced error, but wasn’t everyone doing that at the time? Or did Cracked lead the pack or something?

        Incidentally, I’m reminded of an argument I read a year or two back, arguing that pivot to video was driven by misleading statistics published by social media (I think by Facebook?) about how many views videos were actually getting.

        • Aftagley says:

          Answering your second question first, yes the pivot to video was a lie. The traffic never scaled as high as we were told and the money CERTAINLY didn’t come following.

          As for the pivot, well, they had a collection of really talented writers who were for a while there, making the best list-based content on the internet. The dirty secret of Cracked was that pretty much every article (at least at the start) was “written” by the same small team of well-trained and talented writers. You’d basically write up a draft that had all the facts, content and citations and then one of the staff editors would put it in the “Cracked voice” by making it snarky and funny.

          IF you hung around for a while you’d learn how to write in that voice naturally, but it wasn’t uncommon to see final drafts from new writers that had over 3/4s of their content rewritten. I’ve never seen another platform that operated this way – no “normal” editor would accept a draft that needed to be entirely re-written, but this practice let them maximize the time of their talented staff by offloading the non-creative part of the work (idea generation/research) and focus on having them create funny content.

          When they pivoted to video, however, they now split the time of this funny staff to have the write/star in reams of video content. Now the same team that previously had been creating all the written content was also trying to make video content (which some of them enjoyed way more and got increasingly focused on).

          ETA – calling it an unforced error is probably only true with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, it likely seemed the best path forward… but it did have the net effect of beginning the brand dilution that I think eventually did in.

          • Nick says:

            Thank you for elaborating! That makes sense.

            IF you hung around for a while you’d learn how to write in that voice naturally, but it wasn’t uncommon to see final drafts from new writers that had over 3/4s of their content rewritten. I’ve never seen another platform that operated this way – no “normal” editor would accept a draft that needed to be entirely re-written, but this practice let them maximize the time of their talented staff by offloading the non-creative part of the work (idea generation/research) and focus on having them create funny content.

            That reminds me of how TV writing sometimes works; a big team of writers start with a draft by someone (sometimes not on the team) and go over it two, three, five times. I’ve heard that the secret to the success of The Simpsons was that their writing team went over the script dozens of times.

            (ETA: Timestamped the video, in case folks don’t want to watch a thirty minute video to hear the relevant fifteen seconds.)

      • Bobobob says:

        You wrote for Cracked? I was always impressed by Cracked’ article ideas/execution (at its peak, at least). Not to mention how it went from being a second-rate MAD competitor (in print) to eating MAD’s lunch (on the web).

        • Aftagley says:

          Yeah, never as a columnist or anything though. My written stuff for them was as a freelancer.

          • Matt M says:

            What was your most successful/popular piece?

          • Aftagley says:

            Not trying to ignore you, but I anything I posted to Cracked had my real name attached to it and my comfort with being clocked in meat-space has drastically declined since then.


          • Matt M says:

            100% understandable.

        • watsonbladd says:

          MAD had some of the best cartoonists in the world. The pictures added significantly to the magazine, and no on else could get that down against a bunch of people who had been doing it for 40 years. Online that matters a lot less.

      • GearRatio says:

        Aftagley, I probably know you – were you in the xmoderate chat?

        • Aftagley says:

          I was!

          ETA: removed since that links back to my real name/identity. Email me at at if you want.

      • Matt M says:

        n = 1 but I went from visiting cracked every day to avoiding it entirely when they started going political

        • Randy M says:

          I was a fairly sharp turn to politics, but there were still some quality articles for awhile. They got hard to pick out pretty quick, though.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t remember whether it was politics that made me stop reading. All I distinctly remember is that I stopped being interested in the new stuff; when I wanted some Cracked, I ended up rereading a piece from John Cheese or something. So I can’t really say if it was them or me. It’s a shame, regardless, because back in high school Cracked was one of my daily stops.

          • gbdub says:

            +1/2 here too. It was kind of a combination of 3 things:

            1) The rise of “earnest” political articles (mostly political, just written in a somewhat snarky voice) to become a larger proportion of content

            2) Reduced quality of the humor articles (Mostly that they were generally less funny, but to a lesser degree, the increasing intrusion of partisan political jokes)

            3) Too much content in video and audio. I’ve read for years, hundreds or thousands of articles, and have watched maybe one or two videos and never listened to any audio. Maybe I’m missing out, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for when I visited Cracked. I’d always be disappointed when a promising sounding premise turned out to be a video.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I liked the videos, mostly. After Hours was brilliant, and Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder was always enjoyable. But watching those generally meant that Cody’s Daily Show knock-off ranting about Republicans would come in the queue next, so I made sure not to let them keep playing. So that’s probably politics combining with the poor profit margins of video to work against them.

          • FLWAB says:

            I liked the videos, mostly. After Hours was brilliant, and Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder was always enjoyable.

            I adored After Hours. Cracked TV was their first effort and I loved it, even though it was really just the Michael Swaim show. Swaim’s still making videos on his own now, but for some reason they just aren’t funny.

          • Jake R says:

            “Ragtagging” is such a useful verb to have around. Although watching the video again just now it’s about 30 seconds worth of clever idea stretched out to 5 minutes.

          • GearRatio says:

            Fun Fact: I wrote that script.

            Edit: It’s definitely long for the joke, you are correct.

          • Jake R says:

            Well now I feel awkward for criticizing it. It’s one of the only Cracked videos I still remember after several years. To this day when my friends and I are watching something and the trope gets a little too blatant or predictable we’ll comment on the poor saps about to get ragtagged.

          • GearRatio says:

            Don’t feel bad! After I pitched that some of the specific writing directions were very much something like “I want every single way this trope was ever applied to a kid’s movie covered”. The format at the time liked a certain length, so some videos that needed more time would be compressed to fit that time-frame, while others would be stretched beyond what was good for the joke. You are 100% right and I’m not the least offended.

            Fun internal video facts:

            1. A very similar concept was once done by CollegeHumor. I was unaware of it at the time (so were they) but I was very gently and nicely asked at some point if I had plagiarized it. To this day I’m not 100% sure I didn’t see the collegehumor video, forget about it, then accidentally rip it off whole-cloth. It haunts me on a deep level.

            2. I wanted their team to be called the Wisconsin Cheese Yankees. This joke was cut for not being funny.

            3. Adam Scott was at one time going to play the coach, and then he backed out.

            4. All the “dog playing baseball” stuff wasn’t mine; it was added in on re-write.

            5. I was told I wasn’t allowed to write anything with kids ever again; apparently it’s a pain in the ass to include kids in internet videos.

          • Bobobob says:

            I wonder if College Humor earned any $$$ when Nickelodeon took that “Dora the Explorer” parody and turned it into a real movie.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The best part is “when I became head coach of the West Memphis Country Clubbers…..oh god we’re f**ked!”

          • matthewravery says:

            @GearRatio –

            Re: (1), the human memory is a extraordinarily fallible, and jokes are like memes and calculus. People with similar backgrounds growing up in similar cultural milieus and working in similar formats will often converge on similar ideas.

            I know is a Big Deal among stand-up comics, and I completely support giving credit where due, and for good reason. But I don’t think the existence of a similar video should make you worry that you “plagiarized” it. Even if you had seen it but didn’t remember at the time, I don’t think you should hold yourself morally responsible if the only similarity was the premise.

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            5. I was told I wasn’t allowed to write anything with kids ever again; apparently it’s a pain in the ass to include kids in internet videos.

            Very, very important semi-colon addendum. Thanks for the laugh. 🙂

        • CatCube says:

          For me, it was when the articles stopped loading on my phone. I would pull up every morning when I got on the train and start reading articles (still maintaining the loyalty discussed above), but somehow either an ad or some other piece of JS or whatever caused my phone browser to hang about 1/3 of the way through every article. Eventually I gave up trying.

          I do admit the politics was starting to annoy me, but that was minor compared to the “I can’t actually read the articles anymore.”

          • GearRatio says:

            For context for people: the ads were at some point on the site nearly but not quite as bad/intrusive/malicious as a manga translation aggregator site, and there were a ton of them that were poorly integrated so often the site wouldn’t load right, even on a full desktop tower.

            The ads thing was a big thing that I think gets ignored a lot. And David Pargin is in large part accountable for that, although I’ve never seen him admit it.

            There was a huge problem with intrusive ads or even malicious ads, even during the latter years. People would ask Pargin about it on the forums and he’d make long explanations that all boiled down to “Well, that’s just how ads are – you can’t control what they show at all, so we are at their mercy and there’s no solution at all”. But of course there was a solution, and even if the questioner didn’t know what it was he’d know it must exist since people would go to other sites with ads and not have their browser crash.

            So you had this big problem that made the site unreadable for a not insignificant amount of people, and the official take on it was “That’s just the internet for you! Nothing I can do!”.

            And a lot of things were like that in the sense that he was the final word on the reality that Cracked was willing to accept. The readership feedback was consistently and strongly against politics, and his reaction to that was always to post graphs about how the readers were wrong and they really did like shitty political takes replacing other content, deep down.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I remember complaining to the NYTimes that some ad on their website was driving my CPU to 100%. Since they didn’t want to hear it, instead they insisted I had spyware. . . on my minimal Linux installation.

          • MisterA says:

            The readership feedback was consistently and strongly against politics, and his reaction to that was always to post graphs about how the readers were wrong and they really did like shitty political takes replacing other content, deep down.

            Is it possible he was right?

            Something I have seen Ezra Klein talk about on his podcast is that the type of articles he would like to publish on Vox, and the type readers say they want, is often not what they actually publish.

            The reason being that what readers say they want, and what they actually click on, seem to bear almost no relation to one another. If you have a bunch of reader feedback saying they want X, and a bunch of actual traffic statistics saying Y, I’m going to believe Y every time.

          • GearRatio says:

            Is it possible he was right?

            It’s absolutely possible!

            None of what he used to post about this is really available anymore – they closed the forums at some point – but to my memory it was mostly breakdowns of demographics, I.E. “See, most of our readers are blue tribe”. At some point during the transition to being political most of the time, their public-visible traffic statistics (read x times counters) started being fluffed, then got insanely unreliable, and then were eventually cut entirely. Hard data is limited.

            Given all that, there’s an at-least-plausible model where enough of their readers were a combination of on the left, not bothered by politics on their joke site or not bothered by politics on their joke site that confirmed their beliefs to an extent that the gain outweighed the loss.

            The reasons this isn’t my personal beliefs are varied and a lot of it has to do with “well, I was there and it didn’t feel like that” unproveables. But Cracked went from top-of-the-world to bottom-of-the-barrel entirely during this period – they were doing undeniably well during it and sank pretty fast after it started. This is absolutely subject to confounding – the transition to video might have killed them too, or cell phones like Wong says, or a number of things.

            All of this to say that it’s definitely possible he was right, but the shift was accompanied both by a pretty large decrease in site success and a pretty large amount of people who said that was why.

            It could have in reality been completely contradicted by their data, but looking at it from the outside, what I could see were tons of people saying they abandoned the site for that reason, very few people saying they liked the political tinge, and the collapse of the site’s success.

          • Aftagley says:

            If I remember correctly, he also had a standing policy of “if you mention adblockers, I will ban you” which tended to filter for people who didn’t mind ads.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I can also believe high heat-to-light ratio* posts can get you many short term clicks but lose long term fans. The first time you insult my mom, I’m going to pay an awful lot of attention to that insult, and pass it around to my friends and get them to come check it out and back me up that my mom is not at all like what you’re saying and I’d like you to issue an apology and not talk like that again, but by the fifth time you insult my mom I’m done with you completely and am no longer paying any attention. The fact that I’m heavily engaged with the first insult does not mean I secretly want to hear my mom insulted and am going to keep coming back for more of the same.

            * I can never remember how this goes. Doesn’t it always depend on whether you want heat or light? I mean, I want my electric blanket to give me heat, but no light, and I want my living room lamp to give me light, but no heat.

          • Randy M says:

            You want your discussions to illuminate, not get people all hot under the collar.

        • souleater says:


          It wasn’t even a moderate leftwing bent, it was extreme, constant, and it seemed to come out of nowhere. If it was a little bias sprinkled into mostly good content I would just shrug and keep reading, but I remember being struck by the fact that around 50-70% of their content suddenly turned to dunking on the right/center.

          It wasn’t even a slow cultural drift, someone, somewhere, decided their new business model would be to produce left wing “think” pieces at the expense of what was once very good content. It still bums me out because I haven’t found anything quite like Cracked at its peak.

        • Aftagley says:

          I see this argument all the time in discussions of Cracked – it was originally good but it went downhill when it “went political.” This is normally framed as having been some kind of conscious choice, that the editors decided to primarily focus on politics at the expense of their other content in some kind of effort to target in on liberals. This isn’t what happened but explaining why requires a bit of backstory. Here’s how Cracked’s writing process worked during the very early days:

          Cracked was a content farm in the best possible sense of the word. They would advertise heavily for new writers, had some pretty detailed guides about what they were looking for and how to write a proper pitch. The basics of a “cracked pitch” were to identify a weird trend in some topic and then find 6-7 examples of that trend. Cracked also had a team of paid moderators who interacted with the public, helped people design their pitches and bring them to the editors when the pitch was in a presentable state.

          If your pitch was accepted, you were given two weeks to turn the pitch into a finished article and submit it. The editors would then do a final pitch and, assuming everything checked out, would buy your article for a couple hundred dollars. They would then basically rewrite the entire thing, putting it in the Cracked “voice” and a week or so later it would show up on the front page.

          This process worked, like I said below, because it let funny writers focus entirely on just being funny. They didn’t have to research, fact check or even come up with the theme – they just had to take existing writing and make it funny. Most of the best Cracked articles you’ve read came up through this process. It was pretty exacting – Cracked prided itself on being mostly fact-based so the sourcing had to be pristine and absolutely nothing went through that could be considered an opinion. Everything had to be grounded in facts.
          The problem was that it didn’t scale particularly well. We’d get some number of pitches per week and between 20-30% of them would eventually make it to the editors, and around half or so of those would become articles. People forget this, but early Cracked only published two or three articles a day, and that was it. That was the content you were getting today, come back tomorrow.

          This worked for a time, but eventually Cracked (or, depending on who you ask, the people who owned Cracked) wanted to increase the amount of content (and therefore ad views) people would see. When you rely on community submissions for the majority of your content, however, you can’t increase the amount of content easily. You can’t tell the internet to bring in more/better submissions, so they turned to Cracked Columnists to fill in the gap.

          Columnists were the same group (mostly) of people who edited all the articles. It has always been a thing to have Cracked Columnists writing articles, but in the early days, they mostly stuck to writing listicles also, just ones a bit more out there and personal to them and their writing style than you’d get by going through the normal process. They were also more free to express opinions.

          Now, on average these articles never did as well as the “traditional” Cracked content. Sure, there were some exceptions (David Wongs articles almost always set page-view records) but most of them only did ok… But they were also the easiest knob to turn when the site wanted more content. So, that’s what happened.

          Cracked started reaching out into their stable of regular freelancers and bringing the most prolific of them on as columnists as well as hiring on a few other funny voices from across the internet. They also began to centralize operations out of their office in LA and loosened norms about what columnists should write about. Unsurprisingly, a lot of what they chose to write about was hot takes on current events and they did so from a perspective on the left.

          This is where the political slant of Cracked started to rise – it wasn’t that they explicitly wanted more leftist thought on the platform, it was that a group of people who all happened to lean left were now given more editorial freedom to write opinion pieces and the site began relying more on opinion pieces to shore up their content. There was also a friendship bias – people got hired on to produce content as a result of their relationships with some of the other editors and columnists; all of this reinforced the bubble.

          (It also didn’t help that the most reliably conservative voice on the site got kinda maybe outed as a pedophile and was exiled to Siberia.)

          • souleater says:

            Thanks for taking the time to write this out. I always wondered what the full story was but never knew the full situation.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            OT, but you constantly amaze with your eclectic background.

          • Anteros says:

            @Edward Scizorhands
            I thought the same thing. Maybe @Aftagley is the whole Cracked diaspora under one name..

      • cassander says:

        Count me in as one of those who thought that the video is the best content that cracked produced. the various o’brien, swaim, and friends shows were all delightful.

    • Erusian says:

      As I’ve said many times, the news industry is still very viable and potentially lucrative. In fact, just… last week? two weeks ago? I attended a web-conference (canceled due to Covid) where someone made a strong case that media was an underappreciated market precisely because it had such good fundamentals but almost no one was taking advantage of it properly. His argument was to monetize it like a freemium subscription model and then pointed out cost of producing stories is actually extremely cheap compared to SaaS. (No research and development costs, reporters get paid two to four times less than engineers, etc.) He pointed to several new media companies doing so (and argued that this was similar to the model of old newspapers anyway.) I think he might be a bit too rosy but there is a reason you can still raise VC money for a content network.

      Because the just so story here is absolute bunk. You’re seriously going to argue that having a bookmark is more influential than having an app on the person’s phone? The conventional media failed to innovate and suffered for it. They’re still fairly uninnovative.

      • Aftagley says:

        Because the just so story here is absolute bunk. You’re seriously going to argue that having a bookmark is more influential than having an app on the person’s phone?

        Is that what he’s saying? My takeaway from this is that he’s saying that an app was equivalent to (or maybe better than?) a bookmark on an individual basis, but while he could get a lot people to bookmark his site, he couldn’t get many of them to download the app.

        • John Schilling says:

          Right. Having a separate app for every web service one has to use is needlessly cumbersome. If the only way to e.g. read Slate Star Codex is to download and install the SSC app, sure, I’ll probably do that now. But I doubt I’d have done it back when SSC was (for me) just a thing that I’d seen referenced on Marginal Revolution a few times, and so when MR went south I’d have probably just given up on the interwebs as a source for interesting and thoughtful discussion where instead I just gradually shifted the frequency with which I used the respective bookmarks.

          • OutsideContextProblem says:

            “…when MR went south”

            Given we’re discussing trends in internet content quality, would you mind expanding on this?

          • Nick says:

            John Schilling has mentioned MR’s comments section getting worse and worse, which I think is what he’s referring to. I’ve not heard him say the blog was getting worse, too.

          • John Schilling says:

            Mostly what Nick says. I do have a sense that the quality of the actual Cowen/Tabarrok posting has declined as well, possibly due to the lack of useful feedback. But the commentariat was as important a part of Good Marginal Revolution as were Cowen and Tabarrok themselves, and when they let the comments section go to hell, I found I wasn’t all that interested in just passively reading their essays.

          • matthewravery says:

            This was my experience with MR as well. Both rapidity and magnitude of the decline of the quality of the comments section was shocking.

            On the topic of the content of the blog itself, the quality declined when Tyler began publishing a national column.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            This doesn’t reflect my MR experience at all. I’ve been at least a weekly reader since maybe 2002, and I’ve never known a time when the comments were good. To be fair, I’ve only ever dipped into them to confirm that they’re still bad, but whenever I’ve done that I’ve been disappointed but not really suprised.

            I posted something in the MR comments about the yawning gap between blog and comment quality maybe three or four years ago, and, yeah, they’re really terrible. But when was the alleged heyday?

        • Erusian says:

          What I understood him to be saying is: People used to have high engagement through bookmarks. But people use bookmarks less these days so readers are more generally low engagement. Yet the presence of apps, an even higher engagement tool, would seem to be a counterexample.

      • DinoNerd says:

        If I were to install the apps for everything I use, there’d be so much on my phone I’d never find any of them. I have one small screen for icons for apps, and it’s full – no room for apps for every web site I commonly visit. Yes, I can create additional screens full of icons – and even search among the whole collection of apps. That’s inconvenient though, so I essentially don’t do it.

        As an example, I was forced to install the Amtrak app as the only way I could buy a ticket, one day when the ticket vending supposedly at the station proved not to exist. A couple of years of it self updating later, I uninstalled it, having never used it in the meantime. (I.e. getting your app onto my phone won’t induce me to use it again.)

        I currently have 24 apps on the main screen of the iPhone I use for work – plus 4 in the “dock”, which appear on all screens. Your hypothetical app has to be good enough and relevant enough to displace one of those. Because if it gets pushed to the second screen, I won’t think to use it.

        • Nick says:

          I feel the same. I’ve downloaded very few apps of my own on my phone. A few games, Google Translate, Outlook for work, Feedly, Uber, Imgur, and the app for riding my local bus. I think it’s insane that every website ‘has’ to have an app. The whole concept is anathema.

          • AG says:

            Apps are garbage. They’re just a way for the makers to bypass certain privacy/security regulations, so they’re far more intrusive and unsafe than anything developed for the web, which is already bad enough.

        • Erusian says:

          Right. You’re missing my point: we are not talking about general users, we are talking about a decline in highly engaged users, people who bookmark and visit a site daily. I’m pointing out that there are even more ways to have even more highly engaged users even more engaged.

          • John Schilling says:

            Where do your highly engaged readers come from? There’s a fairly straightforward path for web pages, from “I’ve never heard of your site”, to following a recommended link from a site that you do follow, to noticing that you’ve followed links to that site three or four times in recent memory and deciding to bookmark it, to putting that bookmark on your “visit daily” list. All of those are very low-effort steps, designed to promote increasing engagement without barriers. Having to download and install an app is a much larger barrier, and it occurs early in the process when there’s much less reason to expect it will be worth the bother. Where you could have had a high-engagement user in a few months, you’ve got someone who briefly contemplated downloading your app and moved on to something else (or just stayed where they were).

          • Erusian says:

            I can make customer journeys too: From “I’ve never heard of your site” to following a recommended link to subscribing to a newsletter to downloading an app so it doesn’t get lost in your email.

            Also, I don’t think downloading an app (a process involving two button clicks) counts as high barrier. It might be slightly higher than bookmarks, but if that was the main driver, why are bookmarks declining in use and apps increasing? Empirically plenty of people are making this switch, just not Cracked.

          • CatCube says:

            ISTR Cracked having an app. I refuse to use apps for website content as a matter of principle so I never tried it, but I swear I can recall getting begging ads about switching to their app whenever I’d read an article on my phone. This was when I was normally reading their site on my desktop, and only occasionally on my phone, before I drifted into reading it on my commute.

            This would have been a number of years before the events that lead to my dropping the website because it wouldn’t load on my phone. Maybe 2011ish? It’s possible this is a fever dream, though.

          • Erusian says:

            ISTR Cracked having an app.

            Could do. But there’s more to having a successful app than just literally having one.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          I’ve never understood why RSS isn’t more of a thing in the smartphone era. Almost all news sites/blogs still have it available, and it works perfectly well on a phone. You can use just one app (I use Feedly; I’m sure there are others just as good) to aggregate all the content you choose.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            RSS died when Google killed Google Reader.

          • DinoNerd says:

            The problem seems to be supply-side. I suspect that if I collect your content via RSS, you don’t profit as much from pushing ads and collecting and selling data about me, particularly if I do my RSS via some third party (e.g. Feedly?)

          • Nick says:

            Yep. Some sites even sabotage their rss by only having the first hundred words from the article, stuff like that. It’s really annoying.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            Yeah, that’s definitely an issue. Even an RSS feed that just consists of links to the full articles is useful, though, since it eliminates the need to keep checking every site you want to follow for new content.

    • Randy M says:

      I went to cracked . com just now to see if it’s still around. It is, and while I didn’t find anything riveting, I did get to play the game of “how many different ads can I have on screen at once?” I got a high score of 5, with bonus points for multiple being animated.

  25. Uribe says:

    Why isn’t The Patriot Act a big controversial thing? I’d vote for any politician, even Trump, whom I despise, if they said they’d repeal The Patriot Act. But it isn’t politically salient. Why not?

    • sharper13 says:

      Sadly, virtually all the members of Congress (with the exception of a handful of principled hold-outs) don’t mind the Feds having that power. In some ways, it’s their power also, despite the rhetoric around their fears of specific Presidential Administrations misusing it.

      For most of the population, the details aren’t important enough in terms of their impact on them to look into closely, so there isn’t a popular movement against it outside the fringes.

    • Controls Freak says:

      Which part of the Patriot Act are you against? This gets complicated, because many parts of the Patriot Act sunsetted over a decade ago. Some have sunsetted multiple times. Various pieces have been reauthorized, but this has been done in a few different vehicles, and there have been a plethora of changes along the way. One of the things this implies is that “repealing the Patriot Act” probably doesn’t actually mean much; repealing something that has already sunsetted literally doesn’t do anything; it’s the other laws, the reauthorizations, that would have to be repealed.

      …and to do that, we’re sort of back to the top-line question, “Which part of the Patriot Act are you against?” Because that’s going to tell us which one of the reauthorizations we have to argue against. …and we’re going to have to argue against it’s current instantiation (with all the extra privacy protections and such it’s gained over the years), not the original instantiation. That turns out to be more difficult, because many of these laws have genuinely improved, culling some of the more controversial aspects and retaining the less controversial (and widely considered good) aspects.

      • Matt M says:

        Indeed. My perception is that while most people have strong opinions about the Patriot Act, very few people, including those who are generally pretty politically aware (and including myself) have a solid understanding of what’s actually in it.

        Without a clear sense of “here’s how your life will improve if it goes away” it’s hard to muster up a lot of political support for change. Inertia wins the day.

    • DinoNerd says:

      My somewhat elitist response is that 99% of the population now believes the name. I.e. to oppose the “patriot” act means you are not a patriot, are against patriotism, etc. etc.

      • Randy M says:

        Really? My impression is that it has become the opposite, a go to example of an obviously manipulative title that ended up doing little good, for at least half but probably more like 2/3 of the population.

    • Well... says:

      I remember it being quite controversial at the time, at least among the high school teachers, college professors, and their leftist student fanboys/girls I was often in physical proximity to when the Patriot Act was still fresh. (I know it was far less controversial among congresspeople.)

  26. broblawsky says:

    Warning: CW-heavy even by hidden thread standards. Not intended as a personal attack on anyone here.

    Trump’s affection for hydroxychloroquine – which is of dubious efficacy for COVID-19 treatment – is pretty well-known here at this point. However, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s Trump-like president, is also a hydroxychloroquine fan. Additionally, Hungary and India – both governed by right-wing populists as well – banned export of hydroxychloroquine early on in the pandemic and never rescinded this decree; AFAIK, other nations that have major local HCQ producers (e.g. France, Israel) haven’t taken this step.

    Is there something that makes right-wing populist leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, and others more susceptible to pseudomedicine memes like belief in the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine? Belief in the effectiveness of this drug, along with pseudoscientific explanations for its properties (like the infamous now-debunked Medium post claiming that COVID-19 somehow destroyed hemoglobin) seem to me to be much more popular among the populist right than in the rest of the political ecosystem. Other pseudomedical beliefs, like anti-vaccination, seem more evenly distributed among the political spectrum, so I’m curious as to what makes faith in HCQ so unevenly distributed.

    Edit: India did start exporting HCQ again, although it appears to have done so specifically because Trump made a direct appeal to Modi.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Very speculatively, it is an old school medicine. It conjours up romantic images of british colonialists drinking gin and tonics, of adventurers like Teddy Roosevelt. Trump and Bolsanaro have probably been on African safaris, at which gin and tonics are served constantly.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Good point. That was *my* association with it, having read so much about the use of quinine. The media never seemed to make this connection, and were treating it like this bizarre thing. I initially thought it was hydroxychloroquinine, and I remember googling it, figuring they must be related, and I swear Wikipedia and others at the time referred to it as a synthetic version of something else, I think “chloroquine,” making no mention of quinine. So I thought I was wrong, but since then the Wikipedia post has definitely been rewritten to go into the deeper controversy, and now it is easy to find references to it as synthetic quinine. Idk what that was about.

        I think Trump may have just brought it up as one of many options he’d heard of from doctors or scientists. He naturally gets excited about things and really wants something to turn up, so he reacts with optimistic comments. The media reacted absurdly for weeks, therefore increasing Trump’s interest and desire to push back on it. Tons of tests have been done using it, with varying results, and the pathetically politicized conversation has been really disgraceful. I would say it at that point became a symbol around which people sorted themselves into tribes. I can’t be sure, but the connection may simply be from that. Bolsonaro knows people lump him in with Trump, and that they both drive a certain crowd crazy. Like Trump, he enjoys taunting. He may have developed an interest in the drug mainly to make that crowd flip out, which it did, possibly to distract from his other troubles. Orban openly admits to his “peacock dance” of creating international culture war drama to distract from other more substantive things he’s doing. India is likely to have a lot of access to a drug like HCQ because it is cheap and because they have a history of quinine use. It may be the only drug they have a decent supply of in some lower-income countries.

        Basically, if there’s a meaningful connection between any of this, it’s unlikely to be related to politics itself. Trump is more Bolsonaro-like and Orban-like in personality than in politics or governing style—they like to tangle, which means they make good opposition leaders—at least in the current era, that personality works well with populism. I think it is quite likely that Trump has started taking the drug in part because of the absurd pushback he got, particularly the suggestion that it was extremely dangerous and he was too callous to care about death that could result from following his advice. If he’s willing to take it himself, it’s clear his comments weren’t as reckless as some portrayed them. I mean, when he announced he was taking it, he said he’d been waiting all week to watch their eyes light up at his remarks. He didn’t try to hide the taunting aspect.

        Or, it may be that quite a few leaders of all backgrounds are trying it, given their likelihood of exposure and its availability, but that the ones afraid of being associated with Trump now (insanely) can’t admit they are taking it without causing a scandal. The NHS can’t admit to giving Boris Johnson special treatment so it is has refused to comment on the issue of what medications might have been tried with him. It’s quite possible this one was used.

        +1 for GearRatio’s point below:

        To answer your question more specifically, the question “Why does Trump and other Trump-ish people like this potentially useless drug?” is fair, but it’s no more fair than “Why are the media and a majority of world governments willing to single out a potentially helpful drug in such a way that has rendered difficult or impossible to study?”.

    • Another Throw says:

      Question: how the fuck would Trump even know how to pronounce the word if somebody in the CDC/FDA/whatever hadn’t told him about it?

      Never tell the boss about a promising new opportunity unless you want him to give everybody in his Rolodex an elevator pitch about it. That is the bosses job! It is therefore not a surprise that the people in Trump’s Rolodex have invested exactly as much into the subject as you would expect them to from receiving an elevator pitch from Trump. The responses, naturally, run the spectrum from “I told you to never call me at this number again” to “I hadn’t heard of that so we’ll look into it” to “that sounds good enough to have my people call your people.”

      This is exactly the range of response one expects from receiving any elevator pitch. And the organizational responses neatly maps onto the response one would expect from being asked by their boss to look into it in light of the publicly available information on the subject. So honestly it is hard to say that Trump has even been particularly unsuccessful in this regard.

      Honestly I don’t see anything CW here. Ignoring of course the media hysterics on the subject.

    • GearRatio says:

      So I know jack-shit about this drug in particular and how Covid is likely to react to various drugs in general, but keep this in mind:

      There’s a near-0% chance that Trump just spontaneously knows about this obscure drug, is fond of it, and has decided to hitch his horse to the drug for no reason in a situation where it clearly doesn’t work.

      What’s hugely more likely in the “generic contest” version of this story with his name stipped out is that he was at some point early on briefed about possible Covid treatments and this was one of the things mentioned. As we know, the entire establishment media then dog-piled on it as if it were the world’s most ridiculous thing – but it’s incredibly likely they were dog-piling on something that was proposed by a top-notch public health scientist or doctor.

      I find the above to be the most likely possible situation. After that happens, we have a few possibilities:

      A. The drug doesn’t work. Trump sticking to his guns is possibly killing people. (If there’s a confirmed case of someone dying of this drug when not plausibly being poisoned by their spouse, omit “possibly”)

      B. The drug does work. The media in its efforts to hurt Trump is for-sure killing people.

      C. The drug possibly works; either the media sticking to its guns in trying to fuck over Trump or Trump sticking to his guns to spite the media is making it harder to research if it’s useful or not.

      A quick check then produces this. This NPR article indicates that C is probably correct.

      So what you have here, I think, is a situation something like this: Trump was almost certainly told by a qualified advisor that a drug was potentially helpful for Covid. He mentioned this, and the Media/Twitter crowd decided it wasn’t and then spent a few months accusing him of murder over mentioning it. Trump refused to back down. Now it’s very difficult to see if it works or not because of needless controversy, caused by both sides, over a potentially needed or potentially useless pharmaceutical.

      To answer your question more specifically, the question “Why does Trump and other Trump-ish people like this potentially useless drug?” is fair, but it’s no more fair than “Why are the media and a majority of world governments willing to single out a potentially helpful drug in such a way that has rendered difficult or impossible to study?”.

      I’m on the right, so it doesn’t take much squinting for me to see a “fuck this drug, no matter what it is, because we secretly hate Trump” mindset existing. Doubly so because I vape – “Fuck this seemingly safe alternative to smoking people like because we secretly hate smokers” is the currency of the public health realm on that topic. So I’m not sure it’s as clear cut as the “Why do dumb people like this stupid drug?” version of your question I see some places – to me it’s just as easily “Why is public health often willing to sacrifice people’s lives to punish a disliked other?”

      • gbdub says:

        +1 to all of this.

      • broblawsky says:

        FWIW, I’m just trying to understand why Trump and Trump-like leaders are trying to support the use of HCQ. I’m not trying to imply anything about the mindset of rank-and-file conservatives.

        As to your point, I don’t see an easy way for the media to modulate their discussion of hydroxychloroquine in such a way that they can convey that people shouldn’t take it without a doctor’s recommendation without making people think that it’s dangerous. The average person is, in my experience, bad at taking a nuanced approach to medicine. The onus is at least as much on Trump as it is on the media, though – he’s the President, after all. The power of the bully pulpit comes with special responsibilities, in my opinion. I just want to know why he’s so hell-bent on promoting the stuff.

        • GearRatio says:

          As to your point, I don’t see an easy way for the media to modulate their discussion of hydroxychloroquine in such a way that they can convey that people shouldn’t take it without a doctor’s recommendation without making people think that it’s dangerous.

          I don’t think there’s any way to prove this, but I’d be pretty shocked if a world where the media had let Trump mention he was taking a particular medication and thought it was good mostly just pass would have resulted in more people knowing about this drug than not.

          Before this subject hits me “let’s think hard about this” filter, I 100% want to take this drug because the tribe part of my brain is going “It’s pretty clear the president has been prescribed this by his doctor; at least some uber-high level physicians think it’s a good idea. The media / CDC / FDA say not to, but all of them pretty demonstrably hate me and want me dead for other reasons and are usually or always choosing their actions based on their own self interest.

          Now, I have a “let’s think about this again” reflex I’ve built, but some don’t; I’m not sure the “Let’s amplify the ‘Trump likes this drug but we don’t angle to a huge degree, but then tell them not to do it” math works out in favor of less unauthorized use.

          FWIW, I’m just trying to understand why Trump and Trump-like leaders are trying to support the use of HCQ. I’m not trying to imply anything about the mindset of rank-and-file conservatives.

          I don’t know that this is knowable, but I’d guess it’s a combination of these things:

          1. Medical advisors have told them it’s a good idea or potentially a good idea; in a world where the other available advice is “Well, ventilators if it gets bad, I guess, and maybe a vaccine eventually?” they are motivated to mention other potential treatments.

          2. Behind closed doors, more people than just these few think the drug has potential and/or works, but barring hard proof don’t want to let Trump dunk on them.

          3. The current popular media narrative is “The only acceptable way to talk about this drug is to say there’s no reason to believe it works or could work and to then talk about how dangerous it is to take”. In that environment, if one party affiliation is more likely to be able to get away with talking in the non-approved way, that’s the party that you will see doing it.

          On the flip side, you also have:

          4. Trump Et Al are stupid or corrupt in some way; they especially like the name of this drug or something to the point where they take it and laud it for no reason, or they have money invested in or coming from companies that make this drug.

          To me, it feels very plausible that there was some legitimate interest and hope in this drug before Trump mentioned it and made it a republican pharmaceutical, and that whatever interest and hope remains in it in the medical/ph are to some extent suppressed from what they would otherwise be. I know that doesn’t feel equally plausible to everyone.

          • To me, it feels very plausible that there was some legitimate interest and hope in this drug before Trump mentioned it

            I am pretty sure I remember seeing some positive coverage, representing it as a drug there was some reason to think might help and one that had been used a lot for other purposes so was well known, before Trump mentioned it. I believe there had been some early positive news on it from China.

        • mtl1882 says:

          As to your point, I don’t see an easy way for the media to modulate their discussion of hydroxychloroquine in such a way that they can convey that people shouldn’t take it without a doctor’s recommendation without making people think that it’s dangerous. The average person is, in my experience, bad at taking a nuanced approach to medicine.

          I just don’t see how you can argue the coverage was anywhere near proportional or motivated mainly by concern. This isn’t about whether it was biased against Trump, but whether it seemed almost driven mad for weeks. There was a frankly deranged and counterproductive quality to it that probably made no one safer. Trump is responsible for what he says, but it’s not clear what he said did any damage. As much as he enjoys war with the media, I don’t think even he could have predicted that meltdown by the media on this particular issue, so I can’t really hold him responsible for the fact that it made the drug harder to research. They also did it again a few days later with the disinfectant comment—again, he advised no one to take it, but brought up a vague suggestion that could hardly be followed up on. There was really no need for the media to protect the public from the effect of those remarks. And I remember the Atlantic posting a dramatic article titled, “The World is Laughing At Us,” mainly about that comment. They weren’t worried about the public, or even the pandemic, but that other countries laughed at us because Trump said silly things. Good God.

          All day long, people can scroll through Twitter and everything else and see all sorts of possible suggestions for things that might work, including medications like HCQ, some from doctors and scientists and other influential people. Does the media spend any meaningful time rebutting these? Trump didn’t tell anyone to take it, which would have been different. Most people know you don’t take random prescription medication and don’t have easy access to it. If he’d recommended something easily found in household stuff that seemed harmless (like fish tank cleaner, but that’s pushing it)–say he’d recommended large doses of Tylenol or something—that would have been far more dangerous and worth correcting. Yes, people are dumb, and some will order it off the internet or something, but most people who are dumb about this stuff don’t put in that kind of effort. People really determined to try some drug could have found references to it from people other than Trump all over the web. There was no reason to assume the mere mention of HCQ posed a threat to any significant number of Americans.

          You can say, “well even one is too many, can’t be too careful” but if hysteria is now the appropriate standard in the face of any threat, where was all the hysteria about the bad advice being given by tons of other politicians and health organizations? The danger there was vastly greater. The point is not “whataboutism,” or even right/left, expert/non-expert, but that the media response had precious little to do with HCQ, and a great deal to do with Trump. The HCQ thing at times overshadowed the entire pandemic! And usually it wasn’t warning about needing doctor’s advice, or giving any other particularly protective information, but rather insisting that the drug hadn’t been proven effective. The message was not, “so you should hold off as we wait for more studies, and hope we find some good news eventually,” but that Trump had been wrong.

          There was so much going on that could have used a response of such energy. For example, in Boston and other places, the messaging about COVID-19 was so apocalyptic and also vague that people were afraid to go to the hospital even with life-threatening health problems. Some seem to have thought they could wait it out, what with messages that we were ending the latest two-week period and no officials being honest that this wasn’t going away anytime soon. As you say, some people don’t understand the complexities. So you had children with burst appendixes waiting way too long because of their parents’ fear—the risk to children is clearly low enough that the appendix issue should override any fears for someone who is well-informed. But many people were not well-informed, because the government unintentionally portrayed the hospitals as COVID-19 only and probable death traps that you should avoid at all possible cost, when they meant to convey you should avoid them unless it is reasonably necessary and urgent. It would have been helpful for the press to have gotten in there and corrected the message for the sake of the public, as I’m sure the threat was greater. I could give several examples in that line.

          In another post, I explained why I thought Trump promoted it. Initially, he wasn’t promoting it, just mentioning it along with other things. Then he started tangling with the media, and sometimes mentions it to get a rise out of them. It developed a life of its own. He often develops little fixations on things that don’t appear to have much of a deeper meaning. It’s really not specific to this drug. I’m sure there are other things or people he’s been more stuck on lately.

          • gbdub says:

            As a bit of data supporting you, CNN continues to refer to HCQ in their headlines as “Drug touted by Trump…”

        • Matt M says:

          The simplest answer is probably something like: Given the perception that right-leaning leaders want to re-open as soon as possible, while left-leaning leaders want to keep extending lockdowns indefinitely, possibly until a vaccine is developed (note, I am not saying this is true and I have argued against it in the past, but it does seem to be the common perception)… right-leaning leaders are more likely to positively promote any promising short-term solutions that would justify re-opening quickly, whereas left-leaning leaders are more likely to be skeptical and poo-poo such potential solutions.

          And note that it’s not JUST HCQ. Trump has also been mocked/criticize for favorably endorsing other potential remedies, which the media gleefully reported as “Trump suggests injecting Lysol” and “Trump thinks blasting yourself with UV rays will kill COVID”

          People see what they want to see. Trump wants to see “there’s stuff available that can help us fight this and get back to normal in the short-term.” Trump opponents want to see “We need stronger lockdowns probably until a vaccine.” So Trump sees some evidence HCQ works and anchors to that, his opponents see some that it doesn’t and anchor to that…

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t see an easy way for the media to modulate their discussion of hydroxychloroquine in such a way that they can convey that people shouldn’t take it without a doctor’s recommendation

          It’s a prescription drug. It is not legally possible to take it “without a doctor’s recommendation.” Taking any prescription drug without a doctor’s recommendation is something people shouldn’t do.

          What the media, and various anti-Trump politicians, seem to be arguing is that people shouldn’t be allowed to take HCQ even with a doctor’s recommendation which basically undoes decades of precedent of allowing off-label prescribing. What they are implicitly saying is that even doctors cannot be trusted to properly judge the risk/reward of this drug, and the option of prescribing it should be taken away from them.

          • mtl1882 says:

            What the media, and various anti-Trump politicians, seem to be arguing is that people shouldn’t be allowed to take HCQ even with a doctor’s recommendation which basically undoes decades of precedent of allowing off-label prescribing. What they are implicitly saying is that even doctors cannot be trusted to properly judge the risk/reward of this drug, and the option of prescribing it should be taken away from them.

            Good point. I kind of forgot that part. I think it was actually banned in some cases, by certain states, hospitals, or organizations. As far as I could tell, it was mainly driven by a desire to signal that what Trump was doing wasn’t okay, as it seemed politically risky under any other circumstances to ban anything that could possibly help, unless the FDA objected.

            Also, this just came out — totally nuts.

            Klobuchar mocked Trump for taking HCQ, saying it causes hallucinations, which, whatever, but last month, she indicated her husband had probably been treated with it. She explained it depends on what your individual condition is and what your doctor recommends, which is surely sensible. She then said, “I think people have to look at what works. I believe in science, something this president has been not listening to.” Somehow, it is just not possible to use this medication without being seen as siding with Trump, and it requires extensive justification and distancing.

            GOP Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly was also diagnosed with COVID-19 back in March, and he told ABC’s The View he was treated with hydroxychloroquine, shocking host Joy Behar who responded, “Wow. I can’t believe anybody with a brain would take that stuff, but you seem like an intelligent guy,” she responded. “You’re a representative in Congress. Why would you take that drug? There are terrible consequences.”

            This is just absurd.

            CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, however, who contracted COVID-19 and was critical of the president’s use of hydroxychloroquine, was treated with Potentized quinine, according to his wife Cristina.

            How did we get to this point?

      • Aftagley says:

        So what you have here, I think, is a situation something like this: Trump was almost certainly told by a qualified advisor that a drug was potentially helpful for Covid. He mentioned this, and the Media/Twitter crowd decided it wasn’t and then spent a few months accusing him of murder over mentioning it. Trump refused to back down

        My recollection of this is that support for HCQ got popular on Fox/other conservative media circles, then Trump started talking about it. This makes me thing the process was more like: Trump sees something about it on TV, gets interested in it, mentioned it…” I don’t think there’s any necessary implication of the qualified advisor telling him HCQ is worth pursuing.

        • GearRatio says:

          If this is true, it would change my views on this somewhat – I’d have to think about how much.

        • gbdub says:

          I mean that’s a possibility, but then that would show that HCQ was not some crackpot Trump snake oil but something that had been being promoted as a possible treatment.

          Which is how I remember it, FWIW. I heard about HCQ before Trump and CNN started fighting about it, and from a non-right wing source, as something some doctors believed might be a promising treatment.

          • Chalid says:

            Right, it was promising initially. It was fine to be optimistic about HCQ back in March (though of course, if Trump had been an SSC reader, he would have known that the vast majority of early promising results don’t hold up).

            Then a bunch of better-quality studies came out showing no significant positive effects on average, but Trump is sticking to his guns, because Trump is not the sort of person who backs down to a bunch of nerdy scientists who probably didn’t vote for him anyway.

            (It is true that lots of HCQ boosters think that HCQ needs to be applied early in the illness to have an effect, and the studies largely didn’t do that. OTOH Trump claims he is taking HCQ when he’s not even sick, and that’s just a completely crazy thing to do AFAICT.)

          • gbdub says:

            Certainly, you can criticize Trump for getting ahead of the science, and then sticking to his guns for too long as the science started to fall apart. But you should be equally critical of the media narrative that got way ahead of the science when they more or less immediately turned “Trump is being overly optimistic about a promising but unproven treatment” into “Noted anti-science dumbass Donald Trump pushes obvious snake oil… HOW MANY MURDERS IS HE PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR?!”

            because Trump is not the sort of person who backs down to a bunch of nerdy scientists who probably didn’t vote for him anyway.

            I don’t think that’s fair. To be sure, Trump is not the kind of person to readily admit his mistakes. But the fact that this got turned into a partisan issue almost instantly left him with no way to gracefully shift his position without this getting used as further ammo against him. In a friendlier media environment, the President could both promote a promising treatment to give people some good news and let the issue quietly die when it didn’t pan out. But that’s not the environment we are operating in.

            It’s less “screw those science nerds” and more “Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t” so it should be no surprise he takes the route that doesn’t require standing in front of his opponents and admitting he was wrong.

          • Chalid says:

            the fact that this got turned into a partisan issue almost instantly left him with no way to gracefully shift his position without this getting used as further ammo against him

            Sure there is. He could have just stopped talking about it and everyone would have moved on to other things by now.

            you should be equally critical of the media narrative

            eh maybe. If someone was calling it snake oil in March that’s definitely bad (though urging people not to go out and take it would be good).

            But Trump is claiming that he’s taking it right now when he’s not sick, and AFAICT that fully deserves to be called snake oil.

        • broblawsky says:

          I think this is correct. Utah embraced hydroxychloroquine before Trump did so, or at least before Trump did so publically. Reports from pharmacists suggest it was being used for COVID-19 treatment even back in early March.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Yep. This is what Scott calls a “flag” issue.

        Then came the rallying flag: a political disagreement over the succession. One group called themselves “the party of Ali”, whose Arabic translation “Shiatu Ali” eventually ended up as just “Shia”. The other group won and called itself “the traditional orthodox group”, in Arabic “Sunni”.

        Does it matter whether we eat our eggs from the fat end or the skinny end? Well, eating them the wrong way is how our outgroup does it, so yes, you better believe it matters!!

        My start position on hydroxy is that it probably “has slight benefits, generally not worth the side effects.” I am not at all tightly wedded to that spot, but it gives me lots of breathing room.

        Maybe in time HCQ will prove to be a good treatment. Maybe it will turn out to be a bad treatment. Possibly neither, but if it does turn out to be one of the first two cases the people in a given camp will resist the evidence as long as they can.

        • Wrong Species says:

          People don’t like to hear it but our beliefs really are that shallow and smart people aren’t resistant. Sure, everyone has their own core beliefs that they actually care about but everything else mostly comes down to group dynamics.

      • albatross11 says:

        When Trump started talking about it, hydroxychloroquine was one of the standard drugs that hospitals were trying on their very sick C19 patients. This was at a time when hospitals were trying all kinds of different protocols in hopes of doing *something* for their patients. I’ve heard a couple interviews with a NYC doctor on TWIV where he talked about his hospital’s protocol for C19, which was hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin + (I think) steroids at some point. At other hospitals they were trying other things–cortisone, zinc, whatever the hell they had that they could throw at it.

        I imagine he heard about it then from his advisors, and decided he’d give it a shot. I gather more recent data suggests it’s not too useful, but that’s still debatable. (Also, I think taking it preventatively probably never made sense–the mechanism I’ve heard hypothesized for how it might help in COVID involved suppressing the immune overreaction that messes up your lungs, and if that’s going to happen, it will probably be a week or two after you’re infected.)

        • Cheese says:

          “(Also, I think taking it preventatively probably never made sense–the mechanism I’ve heard hypothesized for how it might help in COVID involved suppressing the immune overreaction that messes up your lungs, and if that’s going to happen, it will probably be a week or two after you’re infected.)”

          This is not correct.

          The theorised mechanism of HCQ in prophylaxis is via direct inhibition of viral entry and unpacking via effects on lysosomes. That’s a mechanism based on some very well established in vitro data in other viral infections. Cue unresolved questions about in vivo effects and relevance to COVID.

          The immunosuppressive effect of HCQ as used in inflammatory arthropathies and SLE is an effect via a different mechanism that takes a long time to manifest. Separate from the prophylaxis discussion.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      You’re assuming HCQ isn’t actually effective, which is not clear in the slightest. The hypothesized effect is as an antiviral, which would mean you need to get it early in the course of the disease or prophylactically. There’s been no RCT of such a test; all of the studies so far have been with people at deaths door already. It’d be nice to see such an experiment. Bonus points if zinc is tested alongside. The popular reporting on this has been abysmally ignorant.

      • broblawsky says:

        The original hypothesized use of HCQ wasn’t prophylactic, per the well-known Raoult paper, dated March 20th, where it was used for both asymptomatic and symptomatic patients. Subsequent observational studies (including one with n>1000) have not demonstrated any statistically significant improvement in outcomes, with or without azithromycin. Studies on prophylactic treatment with HCQ are harder to come by, but those that have been performed have thus far found no prophylactic benefit, and simulations suggest that massive doses would be necessary even if it was effective. Obviously, proving that a drug has no prophylactic benefit is challenging, but thus far, I haven’t seen any substantial study supporting hydroxychloroquine as either a prophylactic or therapeutic intervention. All of the supporting evidence seems to me to be primarily anecdotal, and basic medical precaution would suggest that using it is extremely unwise.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          I don’t really want to get into a debate about the science of whether it’s effective. I’m not an expert, but there are a lot of other experts who are not convinced by the papers you linked (And why should they be? They’re flawed.) You asked a question about why this group of people you don’t seem to like that much are taking HCQ, when the obvious hypothesis is that their doctors/advisors judge in the totality of all evidence that it’s safer to take HCQ.

          • broblawsky says:

            If so, the question is, why do their doctors/advisors believe that HCQ is safer when the majority of the medical establishment doesn’t seem to think so, AFAICT? If Trump isn’t the source of HCQ becoming a conservative shibboleth, who is?

          • 205guy says:

            > who is?

            When I first heard about HCQ from a French doctor, I was hopeful because I am biased to believe the French are competent in medical science. But when I saw a photo of Dr. Raoult, it rang all my alarm bells for attention-seeking iconoclast.


            Which I realize is purely an appearances-based judgement, but there are also other details such as living and working in the south of France (equivalent of conservative Orange County in California, not liberal Santa Cruz). Reading his Wikipedia page, he’s definitely not a quack, but I’m inclined to believe he has blind spots.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          We should all reread

          People on one side will pick apart the studies that show results that disagree with their priors. They are flawed. And they are right: all studies are flawed.

          There are studies that show positive effects of HCQ. There are studies that don’t show it. I have zero interest in trying to debunk or whatever the studies on one side or the other.

          • broblawsky says:

            That’s fair. AFAICT, the bulk of the evidence is on the anti-HCQ side. There are some studies that show positive effects, but they tend to have much lower sample sizes than those that show no or overall negative effects.

          • gbdub says:

            My gut sense, and maybe this is wrong, is that “the bulk” of evidence is against HCQ as an all purpose anti-COVID drug, but it may still be useful in certain cases and in certain cocktails.

            Sort of like how every study of SSRIs shows them as having only small effects, but in reality it’s more like a bimodal distribution – for many people a particular drug doesn’t help much or at all, but for the right patient it is very effective.

          • broblawsky says:

            I think that may well be correct, but the risks associated with HCQ are substantial enough that extensive use is not net-positive.

          • albatross11 says:

            1. People tried *lots* of things early in the outbreak, and are trying new ones still, and that will continue until we end up with either a treatment or a vaccine or the disease burns itself out. Hydrochloroquine was one of the early things people tried that seemed like it worked and plausibly might work. Most such things turn out not to work when you examine them carefully. Probably that’s the way to bet for HCQ as well, but who knows?

            2. If Donald Trump or his detractors’ stated position on HCQ has any effect on your evaluation of this question, you’re probably sabotaging your brain. Trump isn’t any kind of great source of medical advice, but he’s also not an inverse weathervane. Nor is the NYT.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        I think the weaker assumption that the balance of the evidence provides no reason to believe that HCQ is beneficial, and does definitely show that it carries risks, is clear, and is sufficient to support the OP’s point.

        After all, there’s no clear evidence that, say, marsh marigolds aren’t effective against coronavirus either.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          broblawsky cherry-picked countries. HCQ is the standard of care in South Korea and Italy, too.

    • Loriot says:

      Is there something that makes right-wing populist leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, and others more susceptible to pseudomedicine memes like belief in the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine?

      A distrust of experts that are perceived to be liberal-aligned.

    • I think part of the answer, not for that drug in particular, is that the scientific establishment is viewed from the right as largely captured by the left — consider the case of Scientific American — hence its advice, even on non-political matters, is distrusted.

      • LadyJane says:

        I feel like this is mixing up cause-and-effect? Or at least mixing up correlation and causation? I don’t think these people distrust the academic and scientific establishment because they’re right-wing populists, I think they’re right-populists because they distrust the establishment. Both their distrust of skepticism of liberal politics and their skepticism of the academic/scientific/medical establishment comes from a deeper set of assumptions about the world and how it works.

        • GearRatio says:

          Both their distrust of skepticism of liberal politics and their skepticism of the academic/scientific/medical establishment comes from a deeper set of assumptions about the world and how it works.

          This, and the rest of your post, seems like it means this:

          They don’t think. It’s just raw instinct, they don’t have any reasons.

          Does it, or does it mean something else?

          • LadyJane says:

            Does that seem like a charitable reading of my comment? Do you think this interpretation is true or necessary?

          • GearRatio says:

            LadyJane: That’s why I’m asking. David posted something that said, essentially, “These people don’t trust this drug because they don’t trust these people, and they don’t trust these people because they believe them, based on some evidence, to be subverted by politics”. You posted something else that asks if it’s for another reason, but it’s hard for me to parse exactly what you are saying that reason is.

            If somebody’s reasons to distrust the establishment are reasons that have to do with what those things are, it’s a different thing from “Well, those people just have deeper assumptions about the world in general, that’s just how they are”.

            But I specifically didn’t/don’t want to make an uncharitable assumption her. So I’m asking something like this:

            You are replying to a post where someone says people distrust science for action reasons based on experience by saying they dislike science because they dislike things they perceive as establishment – to me, this reads a lot like saying their reasons for disliking science are a lot more instinctual/emotional than rational. Is this what you are saying, or are you saying something different?

            I’m not accusing you of saying that – I’m asking for clarification.

          • Let me give my personal angle on Lady Jane’s point.

            I grew up at the core of an academic insurgency that largely won. That makes me much more willing to distrust a current professional consensus than I would otherwise be.

            To expand on that. A fellow Harvard undergraduate, c. 1963, commented to me that he couldn’t take an econ course at Chicago because he would burst out laughing. I am reasonably confident that he did not know that I was the son of the leading figure in the Chicago school.

            I think his comment accurately reflected the attitude of most of the Harvard econ faculty, including whoever taught the introductory course he had taken, and most of the elite profession, at the time.

            People broadly associated with the Chicago school ended up getting at least four Nobel prizes in economics, and some of the views that were at the time confidently rejected at Harvard and MIT eventually became part of the orthodoxy of the field.

            I think that is part of the reason that, on issues such as population and climate, my attitude is not “I am told that all the experts believe X so it is probably true” but “what are the arguments and evidence for X?” Also why I find it more interesting to look for arguments against current orthodoxies than for them.

            I can easily enough imagine analogous experiences in other contexts leading other people to be skeptical of the orthodoxies they were confronted with.

          • LadyJane says:

            @GearRatio: No, I don’t think they operate on “raw instinct” like unthinking beasts. “Less rational” and “more emotional” might be part of it, for some of them, but that’s not quite what I was getting at either. If anything, I’d say a better description would be “more inclined to trust conventional wisdom and traditional folk solutions than the findings of experts,” which isn’t necessarily irrational or emotionally-driven (though it often can be).

            I’d say the modern anti-establishment skeptic movement is a somewhat uneasy alliance between those types of folksy “common sense” traditionalists, and intellectuals who reject the orthodox academic consensus for some sort of heterodox academic theory, as David Friedman described. It could be equated to a rebellious teenager siding with his grandfather against his father.

            As for my own stance, I’m mildly skeptical of establishment sources, but I still tend to trust them far more than I trust the bulk of anti-establishment sources. I weigh news from CNN and BBC higher than what I’d see on Drudge Report, and vastly higher than anything I’d ever see on InfoWars. If someone starts talking about how the Holocaust never happened, or how the USSR was actually a workers’ paradise and it’s only capitalist propaganda that says otherwise, or how the government is actually run by a cabal of DMT-using Satanists who get their orders from interdimensional lizard aliens trying to eradicate all life of Earth, I won’t be inclined to take them very seriously.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I read it as possibly indicating preferences about, among other things, control, legibility, and efficiency, and “Righteous Mind” type “flavors” of morality. Sounds like I was incorrect, but it made me think of something that keeps nagging at me.

            While I do think things like receptivity to folk wisdom and an awareness of expert fallibility are often involved, rarely mentioned are people who may not listen to any of the experts and also not listen to folk wisdom. There are people out there, and I don’t think they’re all populists but I’d imagine there is significant overlap, who just take life as it comes. They don’t look for a lot of advice or feel a need to plan with certain expectations in mind. They don’t feel a need to take responsibility for every contingency and head it off. They don’t need outside validation, and don’t respond to people telling them what to do. They may not have particularly negative feelings toward experts, and they generally don’t have crazy beliefs, but they lack a proactive approach that appears to many irrational and gets them lumped in with anti-vaxxers. Like, some of them may have no real objection to vaccines, but just never get vaccinated because they’re not big on doctors. But that doesn’t mean they’re into alternative medicine. They probably have a general, “if it’s my time to go, then it’s my time,” attitude towards death. Most people have such an obsession with feeling in control that they won’t acknowledge this group.

          • No, I don’t think they operate on “raw instinct” like unthinking beasts.

            The point I like to make is that all of us function largely on second-hand information, because nobody has enough first-hand data. If you have found a particular source of information, say your church’s pastor, to be reliable in the areas where you have interacted with him, it’s rational to accept his view in other areas where you think he knows more than you do, not as certain but as what you are willing to go on. If he tells you that evolution is nonsense invented by atheists to discredit the bible it is rational to believe him unless knowing whether evolution is true is actually important to you, in which case you might want to look for additional sources and perhaps examine the arguments yourself.

            This is true on the “scientific” side of an argument too. Most of the people who believe in evolution couldn’t give an accurate explanation and defense of it. It’s even true of the scientists. If you are a climate scientist whose specialty is elaborate mathematical models of climate you may believe you are competent to know what views of global warming and its effects are true but you are not, because you have to take on faith both the other scientists producing information feeding into your work and the people taking what comes out of your work, and that of other workers, and deducing from it the effect on the world. The expert on climate models isn’t an expert on the use of proxies for past climate or the effect of CO2 concentration on crop yields or lots of other things that combine to produce the final conclusion.

            Getting back to LadyJane’s point, if in your own experience you have found what was represented to use as the expert consensus to be wrong, you will rationally lower the weight you give to it on other issues.

    • Uribe says:

      I think there is a good chance Trump is lying about taking the drug, simply because he’s not as dumb as he acts. The Qanon fans I follow on Twitter have a made a big thing about how this drug saves lives and the media says it doesn’t because they want people to die. I suspect Trump lied about taking the drug in order to play to that part of his base but more importantly to control the news cycle.

      Bolsonaro has simply hitched his wagon to Trump.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Doesn’t seem like a big mystery, if you take the timeline into consideration. A populist leader wants to be seen as able to solve problems, and is less likely to hedge his bets. In the beginning hcq looked good, was a possible solution and gave something to do. So the default thing for a strong leader to do is say “we’re ok, we’re doing X and Y and Z and look, we also have a drug that works”. And make moves to buy/produce/protect it. Once you do this you kinda have to stick with it, especially since it hasn’t been clearly invalidated. And even then, the default political move is to still say “yes it works” but only when you really really have to, and ignore it the rest of the time.

      What’s unique to HCQ is that it was an obvious possible solution at the time. What’s unique to those leaders is they want to be seen as problem solvers and they’re less afraid to be publicly wrong.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Your assumption is wrong. Many non right-wing authoritarian countries have included HCQ in their treatment guidelines, for example the Netherlands, Italy, Korea and China. On the other hand, the fact that Israel did *not* ban the export of the drug also seems to not support your thesis, as Netanyahu is as right-wing as Trump is.

      The only unique phenomenon that is left is two right wing policians very publicly endorsing the drug, Bolsonaro and Trump. Since they are both invested in the virus not being a big deal but less invested in being truthful, them promoting an unproven drug to reduce fears among the population does not seem surprising at all.

    • psmith says:

      the infamous now-debunked Medium post claiming that COVID-19 somehow destroyed hemoglobin

      Your link doesn’t strike me as a debunking so much as a lot of dark hinting that the original Medium piece is bunk without any actual argumentation or new facts about hemoglobin pathologies. I don’t have a strong opinion on the fact of the matter one way or the other, but I didn’t before, either.

      • broblawsky says:

        The “evidence” for COVID-19 attacking hemoglobin is basically nonexistent; it consists of a single set of simulations. I don’t think anyone needs to put any extra effort into disproving a theory when there’s no actual experimental evidence in support of it.

    • Cheese says:

      Without making political comment, what has struck me is that the debate in mainstream/political areas is often not congruent with the debate in scientific/medical circles. They’re two parallel arguments that largely don’t interact outside of a) initial studies or b) paradigm shifts. That’s true for lots of things but more magnified in this situation.

  27. GearRatio says:

    Electric Guitar guys and electrical engineers of SSC:

    I’m shielding an electric bass, which involves lining the inside of the thing with copper tape. My understanding is this copper bubble has to be grounded; if I line the bass in such a way that the output jack is in pretty good contact with it once it’s bolted back in, do I have to solder it on still? I’m not sure how robust the contact has to be since I’m imagining it’s a pretty weak current.

    • sfoil says:

      Current has nothing to do with it. If there is no contact, it won’t be grounded. If it is “not robust” i.e. in contact some times and not others, then sometimes it will be grounded and sometimes it won’t. The switch between these two states will involve noisy transients, probably literally noisy in this application.

      • GearRatio says:

        I’m probably making this unnecessarily hard by being unclear, sorry. Let me put it another way:

        I’m pretty sure I can cinch it underneath the washer that sits underneath the output jack nut well enough that it should never not have some decent level of contact. If it did slip, it would be an easy fix. Is there any reason to think that an interruption, if it happened, would be damaging for the device or dangerous to me?

        • sfoil says:

          Oh, so that’s why you mentioned the small currents. No, you and the guitar should be fine. Although I still think it’s probably worth it to solder it just to save possible trouble later.

        • Uribe says:

          When I was a teenager playing in a garage band with my Les Paul Deluxe I would often play barefoot and also sometimes get shocked by my guitar. Don’t know what the issue was but someone told me I was dumb not to wear shoes and could have been electrocuted.

          • GearRatio says:

            I’ve had minor shocks from several basses before; I could never figure out why or get it to re-occur on any schedule besides “once every couple of years”.

            Gonna be honest: That’s a pretty sick guitar for teenaged you to have.

          • Well... says:

            Gonna be honest: That’s a pretty sick guitar for teenaged you to have.

            I mentally inserted “Epiphone” in front without even realizing it, but yeah you’re right.

            Then again, there was this band at my high school mostly comprised of the “rich kids”. The lead singer and guitarist played a legit SG.

  28. oriscratch says:

    Say we have two people with headaches, Bob and Joe. Bob has a severe headache that’s quickly getting worse, so he takes some Tylenol. The Tylenol calms his headache back down to a mild headache. Joe, on the other hand, only has a mild headache that doesn’t seem to be getting much worse. So he doesn’t take the Tylenol.

    Later, Bob and Joe both go to the doctor.

    “Aha!” says the doctor. “Bob and Joe both have headaches. Bob took Tylenol, while Joe didn’t. And yet Bob and Joe’s headaches are both equally mild! I guess Tylenol is pretty useless for headaches.”

    After reading Scott’s latest Coronalinks post, I’m wondering if something like this might be happening with all the countries that have different levels of lockdown measures, but still seem to have similarly severe outbreaks. The most prominent example would be Sweden (analogous to Joe) vs neighboring European countries (analogous to Bob, who takes the Tylenol (lockdown measures)). Is there any evidence confirming or going against this interpretation?

    • keaswaran says:

      If I’m understanding the point of the analogy, you should look at how much pain each patient was having before they took/chose not to take Tylenol. The problem is that we have many patients that by the end either had major headaches (Wuhan, Lombardy, Iran, New York) or moderate headaches (rest of USA, rest of Europe) or no headaches (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan) and some strange mix of them took some strange mix of supposed painkillers, at different dates, but some ended up in each group.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      This was my impression too. I think the timing of when lockdowns were implemented relative to how many cases or deaths there were – or from day of first / 100th case – would show a stronger effect for lockdowns rather than “did place lockdown or not” vs “how bad is it now”.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Sweden vs rest is probably the most logical part of the whole situation. We have pretty much what we expected to have: Sweden has many more deaths now, less economic harm, and best we can guess, will end up with about as many deaths overall – but we won’t know for sure until it’s over and probably argue a lot about ways to count. The only unexpected factor is that they managed to avoid overwhelming their ICUs. And actually as far as I can tell, overwhelming only happened in Wuhan and Lombardy (and in a lot of small hotspots, like Suceava Romania). I don’t think we’re risking it anymore, now that we know a bit more about how Covid works.

      As far as differences vs cofounders, that’s due to how the situation is structured. You have a bunch of factors that each can influence R quite a lot. A good guess would be around 20. Some are the same for neighboring countries – like weather, some differ quite a lot – like how many seniors live in retirement homes. Which leaves you with a very spotted map, overall. Add to this the timing of when various measures were implemented, where a two week difference can move the height of the peak either A LOT (for countries with a high R) or not that much, if R was closer to 1 from the beginning.

      So you end up with a picture that doesn’t lend itself well to any simple explanation or model.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If 30% of Sweden has gotten or gotten over coronavirus, like I thought a week or two ago, they are probably halfway to herd immunity and may be able to restart their economy sooner [1] without ever overwhelming their hospital system.

        If 5% of Sweden has gotten or gotten over coronavirus, like recent research suggests (see thread below), then we are probably going to have a vaccine [2] long before herd immunity matters.

        [1] Their economic picture right now doesn’t look better than their neighbors right now. The hope was that they would get over it sooner.

        [2] Maybe a risky vaccine with 1-in-10,000 side effects, but that’s safer than the disease.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Between common sense and financial predictions by respectable institutions, I’ll go with common sense with over 80% confidence. Sure, economies being globalized means getting away completely is out of the question, but I’d be shocked if there weren’t benefits for lighter lockdown. Including, well, plain hedonic ones, which are not negligible btw. We’re talking way more than a dust speck in 1.000.000 people’s eyes, here.

          As for herd immunity, I also think the territory is different from the map. In two ways, at least, but it could be a lot more:

          1. Herd immunity is dependent on R. Or to put it differently, percentage of immune people is just another factor along with many others that affect R. Plain old herd immunity (or R=1) might be 40-60% in regular conditions, but people did change their habits quite a lot, and we may well end up with a much lower effective herd immunity. How low?

          2. Depends on population. If you’re an isolated village in the north, you’re effectively out of the picture. If you’re elderly and paranoid and stay home, again you don’t really count. The more exposed to the virus a certain segment is, the higher its immune count is likely to be – and that’s exactly where the need to lower R is greatest. It’s a self-balancing mechanism that dampens the epidemic in distinct populations.

  29. proyas says:

    Which areas of the U.S. were so badly damaged by soil erosion and unsustainable farming methods that they’re still barren today?

    • SamChevre says:

      There are sections of West Tennessee like this–they aren’t precisely barren, but they are unfarmable and covered in random fast-growing junk like kudzu (imported for the purpose.) Some of the worst sections were bought by the government in the 1930s and are now Natchez Trace State Park.

      • Dack says:

        The US has been steadily retiring marginal farmland from agriculture since the 1960s. Thus the definition of “unfarmable” expands.

    • Uribe says:

      In Caro’s opus 1 on Lyndon Johnson it mentions that Johnson County, named after his forefathers, west of Austin, had a thin layer of topsoil, and what seemed fertile land to the settlers turned into badland after a generation or two.

      When did sustainable farming methods come along and how long were parts of the US farmed on a large scale before they appeared?

      • SamChevre says:

        “Sustainable farming methods” is a bit of a confusing term–different farming methods are sustainable in different places, and are unsustainable elsewhere for different reasons.

        A partial list:
        1) Nitrogen depletion. When you read that tobacco and cotton were hard on the soil/used up the soil, so the planters continually cleared new ground-that’s nitrogen depletion. Several factors contribute: it’s much worse in hotter climates, so things that worked in Europe didn’t in the US; rotating crops with legumes in the rotation helps, since legumes can fix nitrogen. But primarily, this one was solved not by more sustainable farming methods, but by the Haber-Bosch process.

        2) Water erosion. This is affected by slope, by soil type, and by farming methods. It’s worse once plowing becomes common (the steel moldboard plow, developed by John Deere in 1837, had a major impact). The real answer is “don’t farm the hills”, so reduced subsisistence-level farming really makes a major difference. Modern no-till farming also helps–that’s a development of the last 50 years or so.

        3) Wind erosion. This is a problem in dry climates with fine soil, and is still fairly important.

    • Ouroborobot says:

      There’s an interesting micro case of this near where I live known as the Desert of Maine. It’s something of a minor tourist attraction.

    • bullseye says:

      Providence Canyon in Georgia was created by runoff from farms.

  30. ana53294 says:

    How much would having a parent with criminal history affect your chances of getting a job in the US? What if it’s a political crime, like being an active member of the Black Panther party? As long as you don’t support the same radical ideas, that is. Would you be able to get a top job in the military? the civil service? law enforcement? the judiciary?

    I was recently browsing the Internet, and realized that in Russia, apparently, having a criminal parent means you have no chance at a government job, basically. It would disqualify you for the police, Interior, prosecutors, etc. You also need to serve, if you’re male, but that’s another thing.

    In Spain, AFAIUI, it doesn’t affect you at all. Not for politics, not for civil service.

    If your parents’ crimes are political, it could reinforce your credentials, even. If you continue in the same criminally-inclined political movement, you’re gold. But if you decide to renounce terrorism and join a more moderate party, they’ll eat it up. Maybe because Spaniards are Catholics, there’s nothing they like more than the repentant politicians (and they also give preferential treatment to repentant terrorists). The Basque Country is full of turncoats who changed party from the fringe Basque nationalists to Spanish ones, and nobody seems to remind them of their past.

    • anon-e-moose says:

      Very negligible, unless your parent’s crime was noteworthy. And even then, as cited in your example, those crimes may lend legitimacy. For example, the US had the “Weather Underground” movement that engaged in leftist political violence in the ’70s. The leaders of of that movement have gone on to hold respectable academic positions, while one (at least) is still in jail for murder. Notably, the son of the imprisoned member of WU was recently elected district attorney in San Francisco.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Pretty much the only areas where it might have an issue are jobs where a security clearance is required. You can be denied a security clearance for, among other reasons:

      a) involvement in, support of, training to commit, or advocacy of any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism, or sedition against the United States of America;

      (b) association or sympathy with persons who are attempting to commit, or who are committing, any of the above acts;

      (c) association or sympathy with persons or organizations that advocate, threaten, or use force or violence, or use any other illegal or unconstitutional means, in an effort to:

      (1) overthrow or influence the government of the United States or any state or local government;

      (2) prevent Federal, state, or local government personnel from performing their official duties;

      (3) gain retribution for perceived wrongs caused by the Federal, state, or local government;

      (4) prevent others from exercising their rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any state.

      In effect, this means either certain government positions in federal law enforcement and intelligence, the state department, military (some Special Forces, some Intel especially SIGINT, etc), and government and private-sector jobs that involve working with classified material (technical work on our reconnaissance satellites or signals intelligence systems, nuclear weapons, stealth aircraft, etc etc).

      But whether that’s a deal-breaker would depend on SECRET versus TOP SECRET clearance, the details of the individual circumstances, and the opinion of the people doing the investigation.

      • ana53294 says:

        But does having a parent count as association or sympathy?

        Would such things as your parents being divorced and you not being in regular contact with the one with a criminal past count? If you publicly and visibly denounce your parent’s criminal past, could you still be prevented from having a security clearance?

        • Randy M says:

          But does having a parent count as association or sympathy?

          That should be the assumption. Depending on how by-the-book the relevant hiring authorities are, and how unique the position is, it might be overlooked. But most people are going to have some connection to their parents, and if they realize the parent makes them look bad, they’re likely to lie and claim to be estranged if the position is in the balance.

          This is similar to a sub-plot in the Count of Monte Cristo, where the judge’s father’s imperial sympathies make him look bad, so he has him murdered.

        • sfoil says:

          It doesn’t automatically count as having such an association or sympathy, but it creates a presumption of it, which has to be disproved. Trofim gave a pretty good rundown.

          I would be pretty surprised if Spain does not have some comparable system in place. It may not check for the same things or work the same way as the American one, and associated community is probably smaller sand lower profile than the American one, but it would be odd, and unwise, for the Spanish government not to check for suspicious family connections before entrusting an individual with state secrets — which is not the same thing as running for office or being socially or legally “rehabiliated”.

          • ana53294 says:

            Spain’s upper echelons are full of people with dubious backgrounds. The whole of Spain is full of people who have people who committed many political crimes in the past.

            If you start excluding the person with the father who was a rebel involved in a shootout with the police during the dictatorship, but don’t exclude the person whose father illegally tortured citizens, that can raise a lot of stink.

            Spain is still a country with deep wounds from the Civil War. The things that happened during the dictatorships have been amnestied, and you can’t mention them, mostly. So, at least for political crimes before 1977, no, they won’t check for those.

            I guess they do run background checks for the very top rungs. But they don’t for the base level; you can be an ordinary prosecutor, policeman, judge, etc., with a criminal in your family. In the US, it seems you can, also. In Russia, you can’t.

      • bean says:

        You vastly underestimate the number of people who have security clearances. To a first approximation, it’s anyone who does technical work for the DoD. Because anything that touches intelligence data has to be classified, and lots of things have a little tiny bit that is intelligence-related. So you can spend 95% of your time on the unclassified side, but if you have to touch that bit, then it’s time for a clearance, and go to the classified space to do that thing.

        I can’t speak to how they treat parents with criminal records (at least in the areas of relevance, and not just a random assault charge 20 years ago or something) in the investigations. I suspect it’s a matter of you declaring it, and you’ll probably get interviewed about it.

        • Matt M says:

          Even “technical work” is probably too restrictive. I was an enlisted Yeoman, basically a glorified secretary, and they put me in for a secret clearance “just in case” I ever needed to handle classified documents.

          In 9 years I think I handled like, two, and they were both from the 1940s, massively out of date, and were in the process of becoming declassified.

          • Aftagley says:

            We had a phone on our ship’s bridge that technically could be used to pass classified information. That meant that our bridge was now a “restricted space” and everyone who had unimpeded access to it needed a secret clearance. That included 19 year old lookouts that we barely trusted to mop without supervision.

          • bean says:

            @Matt M

            Good point, although I do wonder what percentage of Yeoman would actually need a clearance over 9 years. I’m not sure there’s a good way around the “just in case” rules, which I’ve seen in action elsewhere. (The lab is not normally full of classified information, but can be if we’re running certain tests. This means that everyone on the doors needs a clearance, and because of bureaucratic rules, it has to be a full clearance rather than an interim. Anyone else needs an escort. This is great fun for the 20% of the group with a full clearance when we’re hiring quickly.)


            I suspect it was more than that, at least in practice if not on paper. A ship’s bridge is going to have a lot of information that an observant person could easily put to bad use if they were passing it off to someone nefarious. So anyone who is going to be hanging around there probably should be checked. It’s basically the same reason that the White House mess staff get Yankee White clearances. It’s not that they need to know TS stuff, it’s just that they’re extremely likely to overhear it.

          • Aftagley says:

            Nope, I was the command security officer. The bridge was a secured space because it had one piece of classified equipment on it. I’m sure you know this already, but there’s less information available on a bridge than you’d think. All that stuff happens down in Combat.

            Not saying the information up there wasn’t useful, it’s just not enough to trigger it being classified.

    • Erusian says:

      Officially, not at all. There might be some investigation if you might have been involved. Unofficially, you partly inherit your parents’ reputation (at least a little) which could cause issues. But it’s not a hard and fast rule barrier by any means. Likewise, you might run into some discrimination if your parent is a famous politician amongst people of the other party, but that’s not exactly what you’re asking about either.

  31. Edward Scizorhands says:

    What is modern Catholicism’s take on Jesus healing people by banishing demons out of them? Were they literal demons, and if so do they exist and plague people today? Can it all be logically interpreted as Jesus getting rid of a mental disease?

    • Nick says:

      What is modern Catholicism’s take on Jesus healing people by banishing demons out of them? Were they literal demons, and if so do they exist and plague people today?

      Yeah. You’re not obliged to believe any particular casting out of demons today, just as you’re not obliged to believe any particular reporting of a miracle (and you’re sometimes warned it’s probably false), but these things can very well still happen today. I don’t see, anyway, what is more logical about Jesus casting out mental illness, given he was not a psychiatrist.

      Incidentally, in the past five years there has been a huge resurgence in requests for exorcisms. The Vatican has been training a lot of new exorcists, and news and stories about them have gotten more common. See e.g. this Atlantic piece which made the rounds a few years ago. I’m not sure why.

      • FLWAB says:

        I don’t see, anyway, what is more logical about Jesus casting out mental illness, given he was not a psychiatrist.

        Well he also cured many physical ailments without being a doctor. You could argue that the demon possessed were not actually demon possessed but did have some physical disorder of the brain that was cured miraculously. I mean, I wouldn’t argue it (if I believe in miracles, and I believe in the gospel accounts of those miracles, why draw the line at demons?) but you could. Maybe Jesus cured their serotonin receptors or whathaveyou.

        • Fahundo says:

          if I believe in miracles, and I believe in the gospel accounts of those miracles, why draw the line at demons?

          Physical and mental illnesses are known to exist. Believing that Jesus could heal the sick requires belief in a mundane malady and a supernatural cure. Believing that he could exorcise demons requires you to believe in a supernatural malady and a supernatural cure.

          It’s not clear to me that this is necessarily where the line between reasonable and ridiculous belongs, but it is clear to me that an account that purports to be real and requires me to simultaneously believe in two supernatural events is asking more of me than something that only requires me to believe one.

          • FLWAB says:

            I get it. But at the same time, I don’t really?

            For instance, lets say there was a parallel universe that existed in two dimensions, and some two dimensional intelligent being started telling others that three dimensional intelligent beings exist. He says “There are many types of higher dimensional being of varying intelligence that go by different names: humans, and dogs, and snakes, for instance.” Wouldn’t it be a little silly if the reply was “Whoa whoa whoa, I can maybe believe in one higher dimensional being, but believing in two or three is just ridiculous!”

            So if you’re willing to entertain that the supernatural at all, why would it ask significantly more of you to contemplate the existence of two supernatural beings rather than one?

          • Fahundo says:

            Imagine there are a bunch of three-dimensional beings. At some point they consider the existence of a four-dimensional being, and they decide to call the thing a demon. And they maybe also consider the existence of a being who can perform various miracles, including healing the sick. This guy could be another example of a 4-dimensional being, or he could be five or six-dimensional or something. How can anyone even tell?

          • FLWAB says:

            Imagine there are a bunch of three dimensional beings. Some of them believe their are four-dimensional beings, and they have a long tradition of believing in them and outlining their nature. And they have a very old book which has an account of a four-dimensional being taking on a three-dimensional form. And in this account at various times he uses his four-dimensional power to heal people, and to control nature, and to transform matter. And sometimes he uses his power to affect other 4-dimensional beings called demons. Why would you, at this point, say “Hold the phone! I’m willing to entertain that the account might have been accurate in describing a four-dimensional being taking three-dimensional form and healing the sick with his four-dimensional power, but the same account and tradition holding that other four-dimensional creatures exist and affect us is much harder to swallow!”

          • Lambert says:

            This, but the whole hypothetical is also a metaphor for the class structure of Victorian England.

          • Nick says:

            Man, having four-dimensional powers would be so cool. You could go poking around in someone’s innards without even having to open them up!

          • Fahundo says:

            How are you determining that all the beings described are 4-dimensional?

          • FLWAB says:

            How are you determining that all the beings described are 4-dimensional?

            Because the tradition and the book both say so. That’s my point: if you believe both of those things enough to believe (or entertain) the idea of one, why not the other? Where exactly is the stumbling point from “I can believe in a supernatural healing, but not in supernatural beings” given that the source for the supernatural healing claims also claim that supernatural beings exist?

          • Fahundo says:

            I dunno man, someone can be wrong about one thing and right about another thing pretty easily. If I make two predictions, we can evaluate each on its own merits rather than assuming I’m either right about both or wrong about both.

          • Randy M says:

            If one believes Jesus was just this guy who used the power of placebo and exaggerations of his biographers to become noteworthy, or some other similar explanation for the rise of Christianity, then of course Demons are pretty implausible.

            If you believe Jesus was actually divine or in some other way supernatural, then you’ve opened the door to extra-material forces and you’re 99% of the way to accepting the possibility of others, especially when he claims such himself.

          • Fahundo says:

            If you believe Jesus was actually divine or in some other way supernatural, then you’ve opened the door to extra-material forces and you’re 99% of the way to accepting the possibility of others, especially when he claims such himself.

            I don’t think this is necessarily true and it is in fact the very thing that I am disputing.

          • broblawsky says:

            I’d argue that postulating the existence of demons and Hell, particularly in combination with these entities having the ability to influence human behavior, creates fundamental issues of theodicy, which some people might not want to deal with.

            Note: not a Christian.

          • Randy M says:

            I’d argue that postulating the existence of demons and Hell, particularly in combination with these entities having the ability to influence human behavior, creates fundamental issues of theodicy, which some people might not want to deal with.

            Sure, but so does the existence of a supposedly inspired account which does attribute some agency to such forces, or at least returns to the metaphor often enough for the confusion to be understandable.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          You could also argue that the demon possessed weren’t demon possessed because God would not have given any demon permission to possess a person (‘So the LORD says to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.”‘).

          That what Jesus actually did is bring the light of god to those who, as you say had an ailment, or who were themselves away from god. That this light of God cured them.

          (I write all of this as an atheist.)

    • broblawsky says:

      It was pretty common in Classical-era Middle Eastern countries to attribute any kind of disease to be a potential result of demonic influence. Jesus’ exorcisms don’t just include people who we would consider victims of mental illness, but also the mute, the blind, and epileptics.

      Ritual purity was considered to be a form of protection from demons, which some believe to be a reason why the Levirate dietary laws (modern kosher rules) prohibit pork, shellfish, and many forms of wild game: all of these would’ve been a potential risk vector for parasites and other diseases, especially in a desert culture without access to refrigeration.

      Edit: Also, all of the demons associated with the astrological decans in the Testament of Solomon cause various physical illnesses – e.g. migraine, tonsilitis, etc.

    • Deiseach says:

      Were they literal demons, and if so do they exist and plague people today? Can it all be logically interpreted as Jesus getting rid of a mental disease?


      To be a bit more helpful, here’s a statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on Exorcism.

      As a bit of historical trivia, the office of exorcist used to be one of the minor orders, along with acolyte, lector and porter.

    • mcpalenik says:

      At a minimum, I would say that a demon would have to be a second intelligent entity that exists independently of the host.

      Speaking of which, it seems rather strange for Jesus to speak to a mental illness as if its a person and then cast it into a pig.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Maybe I’m not up on my philosophy or theology, but I think there are two possibilities.

      1. When Jesus cured a man’s lame hand, he fixed all the ligaments and muscles and tendons and restored it to full health. When Jesus cured a mental illness, he fixed all the brain chemistry. The apostles could understand the first but not the second, so they interpreted it as Jesus removing a demon.

      2. Jesus could cure physical ailments with little trouble. But some were possessed or tormented by an antagonist intelligence.

      Why I’m wondering, besides being able to determine which of those two universes I inhabit purely for knowledge’s sake, is that it seems that medical treatments would be little use against an antagonist intelligence. I guess even some physical ailments could potentially be caused by demons. These people will not respond well to whatever mundane tools we can bring.

      • FLWAB says:

        it seems that medical treatments would be little use against an antagonist intelligence.

        Just for fun, lets imagine ways that it could:

        1. Perhaps demons manipulate peoples emotions by suppressing or antagonizing brain chemicals? We know some people have low dopamine or whatever and that medication can help, so maybe the demon is the cause of the low dopamine. And maybe the demon gets pissed that he’s going to all this effort only to have the humans figure out a work around.

        2. Maybe the placebo effect is spiritual in nature, and that by treating a mental illness the patient begins to believe they will get better, and that belief somehow frustrates the efforts of the demon.

        3. Maybe being possessed by a demon really sucks, but if you take enough of the right meds you don’t notice it so much, in the same way that taking enough morphine means you won’t notice your broken leg.

  32. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Sweden’s seropositive rate (people who’ve had coronavirus) is only 5%, not ~30% like some thought a few weeks ago.

    This means they are still at the very start of their quest for herd immunity, as opposed to more than halfway there, like many (including me) thought.

    I can’t read Swedish but here’s the primary source.

    According to Google Translate of the abstract the samples were collected “in the spring of 2020.” The specific dates matter a lot.

    • I think the claim of approaching herd immunity I saw was specifically for Stockholm, or the Stockholm region, not Sweden as a whole.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I was going to link this Lancet article as a rebuttal, which claims that 20-25% of Stockholm has antibodies:

      The source of that 20-25% though is ‘personal correspondence’ with some guy. And the supporting evidence below that is a seroprevalance study done on hospital workers that showed 20%. Pretty lame.

      The primary source you linked has 7.3% for Stockholm in ‘early april’ which would translate to maybe 13% today since PCR testing indicates that around 2-3% have it at a given time.

      So you’re right, this might mean that herd immunity is impractical. But, Sweden’s infections and daily deaths peaked a month ago and have been decreasing since. So herd immunity is impractical but only because the infection spreads so slowly with voluntary social distancing that your hospitals will never be overwhelmed and you’ll probably get a vaccine before you even get a chance at herd immunity.

      This means that ‘flatten the curve is a deadly delusion’ guy (and Neil Ferguson) was wrong: flattening the curve is totally practical and probably the best strategy. I think a lot of the assumptions around here about strategy were based on that guy being right (mine were).

    • Chalid says:

      Sweden population: 10M
      Seropositive rate: 5% -> 500k infections as of a few weeks ago (exact dates matter a lot here)
      IFR is ~1% so that would predict 5k deaths; google says a bit under 4k.

      So that’s a broadly consistent story (depending on the dates, reporting issues about death classification, the average age of infection and the like). 30% would be very surprising.

  33. Conrad Honcho says:

    2020 Battle for the White House Chess Set Parody Commercial. From Auralnauts, the people who did the Jedi Party saga. I chortled heartily.

    • Nick says:

      2020 Battle for the White House Chess Set Parody Commercial

      My God, man, I’ve seen light novels with shorter titles than this.

    • Lambert says:

      The funniest part was when I realised it was a parody advert of an actual product that you will be able to buy.

      • Matt M says:

        My guess is that this gets a lot funnier if you’ve actually seen the regular ad a few times (as I have, but I suspect most SSC readers have not).

      • broblawsky says:

        There has to be a term for that, right? Something that isn’t funny if you don’t realize it’s a parody?

        • Aftagley says:

          “The Weird Al Effect”?

          • gbdub says:

            More like the “Scary Movie 3 Effect”.

            Weird Al parody songs often don’t really reference the songs they spoof. I mean, they are parodies, but the humor doesn’t strictly depend on being all that familiar with the source material.

          • Matt M says:

            And, as all true Weird Al fans recognize, his best work is predominately his songs that aren’t parodies at all!

          • FLWAB says:

            And, as all true Weird Al fans recognize, his best work is predominately his songs that aren’t parodies at all!

            In Aaaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaaal-buquerque!

          • Matt M says:

            Why yes, that is the exact song I was thinking of, thanks!

          • Hoopdawg says:

            One of the main sources of Weird Al’s humor is taking entire phrases from the original lyrics and putting them in a new context. Some songs do depend on it pretty much entirely. (Headline News!)

            And his original compositions do the same to other artists’ music. (And while the feeling of “ohh, I know what he’s doing” cannot properly be described as humor, it is a large part of their appeal.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The one Weird Al song where he most makes fun of the original is “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long,” which “Smells Like Teen Spirit” being in second place.

    • Business Analyst says:

      That’s really funny. I think the original ad is pretty unintentionally funny too though (pols riding elephants and donkeys, Biden likely to be on the board twice, the justices, the really nice set shown in comparison etc).

  34. baconbits9 says:

    Following up on a post a made ~10 days ago on CPI:

    Recap: I think there is a larger than generally acknowledged chance that we get a positive or even high CPI reading in the next month or two after going through the individual breakdown of price shifts.

    Update: I am increasing my estimate of the odds for higher CPI readings in the near future because

    1. Oil prices continued their rebound. Gasoline prices fell 20.6% in April, but google results are giving me ~8.5% rise since April 30th, and the RBOB index is up >50% since April 30th. Natural gas prices were up in early May from the end of April but have dipped to below end of April prices.

    2. Air travel has slowly picked up and price increases are expected in the near future while price declines seem to have slowed or completely stopped.

    3. Food showed a 1.5% increases in April but grocery store food (+2.6%) was much higher than restaurant food (+0.1%). Recent stories of restaurants adding covid surcharges to bills make it plausible that we see higher restaurant prices with continuing increases in grocery store prices.

    4. As I expected falling home inventory is more than offsetting falling home purchases. I don’t know if this will actually cause a push higher in rental rates and OER but it seems unlikely that we will see the housing component of CPI fall in the near term unless lodging continues to crash. Evictions and foreclosures are dropping to all time lows which is keeping supply depressed and ‘demand’ elevated relatively speaking.

    There is a lot still missing from this picture and a surprise drop in any category could prove this hypothesis wildly incorrect (as well as a large number of patterns that could emerge in the last week of May). However there is enough here for me to place a levered bet on a higher than expected CPI reading when the May data comes out due mainly to constricted supply and month to month prices coming off lows.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      It certainly looks like steps have been taken to increase inflation. About a 15% increase in M2 over the span of February to May. Bigger than any prior jumps in the FRED dataset.

      • Cliff says:

        More like to prevent deflation. Look at NGDP expectations. They have dropped. It would be better if inflation actually did rise during recessions, which would keep NGDP (wages) stable.

  35. johan_larson says:

    Those meddling fools the aliens with spaceships the size of small moons just won’t stop. Now they’ve taken all our paper. That includes both unused sheets of paper and paper that has already been used for writing or printing, whether left loose or bound into books. They left us all the pulp and paper plants, and their feedstocks. They also left all the parchment and vellum documents, and some really modern paper-like substances that are basically sheets of plastic. But all the paper-paper is gone.

    How screwed are we?

    • Lambert says:

      Heavy short-term disruption but information with a longer half-life is more likely to have got digitised or microfiched or something.

      • johan_larson says:

        I guess the problem has two aspects. On the one hand we use paper transactionally, for forms and receipts and stuff. A lot of that is purely digital today, but not all of it. On the other hand we use paper archivally, for storing information long-term. Again, a lot of that has been converted to other media or digitized, but not all of it.

        On the archival side, what are the most important documents that only exist in paper form?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Are birth and death records digitized?

        • Lambert says:

          For the most important individual documents, possibly stuff that’s too secret to even put on an air-gapped computer?

          But I expect much more disruption to come from a vast number of certificates and written contracts being lost. Also old people, who have accumulated a lot of paper gilts and share certificates and wills etc.
          And I expect people acting in bad faith to take advantage of the fact that a bunch of things are now not in writing. And a load of value to be spent on lawyers litigating over written contracts that no longer exist.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not very. Google Books has us covered:

      Google estimated in 2010 that there were about 130 million distinct titles in the world,[12][13] and stated that it intended to scan all of them.[12] As of October 2019, Google celebrated 15 years of Google Books and provided the number of scanned books as more than 40 million titles.[14]

      Pretty much everything after 2010 should be ready to publish as ebook. So between that, Google Books and Gutemberg, I think most things would be covered.

      It might actually be a step forward, with immediate switch to ebooks and presumably drastic decreases in their price. You’ll probably get a chinese kindle clone with about the price of a normal book. Just did a quick search on aliexpress, and currently they’re around $50.

    • John Schilling says:

      Those meddling fools the aliens with spaceships the size of small moons just won’t stop.

      These guys are way too much trouble. From now on, the answer is always going to be to invest in more small, one-man fighters.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Those meddling fools the aliens with spaceships the size of small moons have just taken all our small, one-man fighters.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Nevermind books, what about money? Estimates place the amount of hard cash in the world in the trillions of dollars (the figure includes coins, but I’ll assume it’s dominated by bills). Australia switched to plastic bills in the 90s and Canada in 2001, but the US dollar, the Euro, and most of the other currencies are still printed on paper: the aliens just pulled off the largest bank heist possible. I’d need an economist to explain exactly what would happen, but it’d be really bad.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Do US bills count as paper? They are 75% cotten and 25% linen.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I suppose that depends on the aliens’ opinion of linguistic descriptivism, because people will definitely call them paper, and not just in the casual “paper money” sense but explicit sentences like “A polymer note costs 19 cents to produce, compared to 9 cents for a typical cotton-paper note.”

        • keaswaran says:

          Are books and printer paper usually 100% cellulose from wood products or do they usually have some amount of cotton and/or linen cellulose as well?

    • Nick says:

      I’m going to be sad losing all my books—I paid a lot of money for these, and I am attached to some of them!—but what I’m really going to miss are all the paper notes, drawings, and the like that I’ve never digitized. Damn aliens.

      That raises the question, too: are there any works of art we’ll lose? Da Vinci’s notebooks–type things.

    • Matt says:

      My Garbage Pail Kids Card Collection!

      Seriously, though. I will miss my books, but my primary regret is that they didn’t do this 2 months ago, before I helped my mother-in-law move out of the house she’s lived in for 40 years and into an apartment. So much paper to sort/trash/save/shred etc.

      Based on what is gone now, did the aliens steal some original masterworks of art?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Even the toilet paper?

      I think we’re pretty screwed, but also, this is personal. I have a large collection of books. A lot of them aren’t digitized. This is war.

  36. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Assuming some very highly populated areas are going to become intolerably hot and humid, what are the best feasible solutions?

    The best solution would probably to just let people move away from the hottest areas, but I’m not expecting that to be politically possible.

    • Why not? That is unlikely to require international migration, and migration within a country is usually unrestricted.

      • Well... says:

        How normal is it for countries to have the kind of range of biomes we have in the US? For example in countries like Panama or Ecuador, are there really some parts that are hot and humid and other parts that aren’t — and are likely to still not be even assuming the scenario in the OP comes true?

        • Buttle says:

          There is a huge range of climate in Ecuador, from coastal jungle to chilly Andean highlands. Not so much in Panama. The most difficult cases I can think of are the small countries on the Persian gulf, eg Dubai, which are extremely hot and humid now. On the other hand, they were difficult to live in for those not born to the climate until affordable air conditioning, so how much would change?

        • SamChevre says:

          Even in Panama, it gets cold enough to frost at high elevations.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Offtopic: I find myself with a recurring reaction to paywalls. I click the link, find the paywall, think of buying, and realize the article is trying to sell me something in itself. It’s (in a vast majority of cases) more the interest of the article/author/newspaper that I read it, than in mine. So I don’t pay, close the window, and feel like I won twice. It’s offtopic because this particular case is borderline – usually it’s much worse.

      Comparing this with non-paywalled articles, where I click on a link from facebook to some fluff article and go through an advertisement-filled page that seems to be written on purpose to drag me over as many display ads as possible.

      Not sure where I’m going with this, other than I refuse to pay to be indoctrinated. Last subscription I had was for the Economist, which I stopped mostly because a disagreement with the small printed version (I’ve been paying for it for two years and apparently there’s a postman somewhere that was enjoying it in my stead). So I don’t mind paying per se. I’ll probably get back to printed Economist once I settle into one city. And I’m tempted by Foreign Affairs. But other than that, I think the ratio of agenda-information is a bit high to pay for.

    • Aftagley says:

      Assuming some very highly populated areas are going to become intolerably hot and humid

      Does this kind of thing hold true in a world with nigh-on-omnipresent AC? My gut assumption is just that people in these cities would just stop going outside from May-October.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        People who are living on under $2/day presumably don’t have AC. And what about farming?

        • Lambert says:

          Also heat pumps require a lot of energy and the refrigerants used are incredibly powerful greenhouse gasses. Which is how we got into this problem in the first place.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve wondered about going underground. High initial cost, but much less ongoing cost than AC.

          • Buttle says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz, underground seems to work in Coober Pedy

            On the other hand, people managed to live in the area for thousands of years before the digging started.

          • Nick says:

            @WrathOfGnon on Twitter writes constantly about sustainable ways to cool interiors. See here for a recent example, but there are many better ones written earlier.

          • Lambert says:

            I’d really like to see a form of urbanism that understands the city as a whole as its own microclimate. That zones by building height to funnel the wind and uses lakes as thermal reservoirs and trees as humidifers.

          • 10240 says:

            Also heat pumps require a lot of energy

            We may save more energy by less heating in the winter in cold areas than we lose by more AC in the summer.

          • Lambert says:

            Heating’s more efficient than cooling. (you get to use the work you put in, as well as the heat)

          • tg56 says:

            Heating isn’t more efficient then cooling. Almost all extent installed heating isn’t using heat pumps but rather directly burning something or electric resistance heating. Cooling is going to use a lot less energy then that.

            Even heat pump based heating has to contend with a typically much bigger difference in desired vs. outside temperature (very few places are going to be cooling more then say 10 deg C averaged over 24 hours while there are many places that heat 20+ deg C avg over 24 hours), though you do get to keep the wasted energy that’s only a unit factor (good heat pumps are already ~4 times more heat moved then energy expended, dependent on many factors).

            Cooling also tends to align really well with solar power relative to heating.

          • keaswaran says:

            The energy involved in maintaining a temperature gradient is approximately proportional to the size of the temperature gradient, though whether it’s a heat pump or some other source is also relevant. But heating is usually more energy than cooling because in temperate climates, the winter temperature is usually quite a bit farther from comfortable room temperature than the summer temperature is. Here in Texas, the extremes are almost equal – in Fahrenheit, it’s rare to have to move the temperature by more than 30 degrees in either direction, though we usually spend more time below 40 F at night in the winter than we do above 100 F in the summer (and we certainly spend more time below 30 in the winter than above 110 in the summer – I don’t think it’s ever actually reached 110, while we’ve even gotten down to 20 F a couple times in the past five years).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            As a whole, the US spends a lot more (in both energy and dollars) heating than it does cooling.

        • Aftagley says:

          Ah, good point. I was focusing in on my particular country.

          Outside of the first world, I expect to see significant pole-ward migration.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          The number of people living on under $2/day is declining dramatically, no?

          How does Nigeria in 2040 compare to US 1960?

        • The claim is about effects near the end of the century. Over the past forty years, the number of people living in extreme poverty, currently defined (I think) as under $1.90/day, fell from over forty percent of the world population to under twenty percent. If the trend is linear, it will be down to zero in another forty. If it is exponential, down to about five percent by the end of the century.

          According to a different source for what appears to be the same information (the source linked to is paywalled), they are talking mostly about China and India, so large countries with a considerable climate range.

          The story doesn’t make it clear what the carbon emission assumptions are. A lot of such stories are based on RCP8.5, originally introduced as a possible but improbably high level of emissions.

  37. Uribe says:

    On the theme of whether we are more partisan now than in previous decades…. I think the difference is qualitative. I’m thinking about popular music as an example. In the late 60s through early 80s American music became more culturally integrated in various ways. Whether rock, r&b or country, they all became hippies. This is more obvious in retrospect than it was at the time. Willie Nelson and Neil Young don’t seem that far apart culturally, yet I remember in the 80s how Willie Nelson fans were considered rednecks by typical Neil Young fans. There was a huge cultural/political divide between the two, seemingly, in a red state blue state sense. Merle Haggard wrote songs from the “conservative” point of view, but he himself was another drug addict hippie, and Gen X fans of him are more likely to be on tie left than the right. (Because eclectic musical tastes correlate with openness.)

    In ’69 Miles Davis made hippie music. Sly Stone was a hippie. Black and white audiences, perhaps superficially, were out to accept each other more. Rock bands were openly stealing from the blues, which drew white fans toward older black music.

    So in white American culture circa 1980, there’s was a hard line drawn between what was conservative vs. liberal (Country vs. Rock). Even though musically the difference between Waylon Jennings and Bob Seger wasn’t so vast.

    Johnny Cash performed Bob Dylan songs.

    Today’s Country Music seems unambiguously conservative. Not just in terms of lyrical content but in the aesthetics of the sound and look. It sounds and looks like an advertisement for the Republican Party.

    Now there’s less popular country music, called alt- country, which is as left wing as pop country is right wing.

    I’m drinking gin and rambling. The main. difference I want to highlight is how conservative (Republican) pop country music is now compared to the hey days of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The main. difference I want to highlight is how conservative (Republican) pop country music is now compared to the hey days of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

      Hrm. Didn’t Hollywood go through a Hillbilly or “Dixploitation” phase, like Blaxploitation films or ’90s black-targeted TV but for poor country-music whites? Think The Dukes of Hazzard with its Waylon Jennings theme song in the early ’80s or cheap movies like Hillbillies in a Haunted House (1967), where some poor Southerners trying to get rich in country music stumble into John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone (!) trying to pull off a Scooby-Doo scam.

    • ltowel says:

      What do you think about Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt or other “Bro Country” artists which are pretty unambiguously stealing concepts from rap music and redefining mainstream country?

      • Uribe says:

        I’m not familiar with them. Would you say they have less of a Republican vibe than other mainstream country?

        • ltowel says:

          I’d be interested if you listened to the songs “Cruise” or “Cruise Remix”, “Body Like a Backroad” or “House Party” before reading the rest of this post – they were all big country hits in the past few years (although I am only aware of them because they were the songs that crossed over into pop charts)

          Generally it seems to me like the sound is pretty obviously hip-hop influenced – using a lot of 808 drums/other sampled sounds and referencing rap songs. I was interested to hear what you thought about them – I think they mix white, country, what is traditionally republican appearance with openly stealing from black music. What this ends up being is music to be played at a college frat tailgate.

        • Matt M says:

          If anything, the country-rap subgenre can be more explicitly Republican than mainstream country.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I’ve never heard country rap. Do they say “yo-all” instead of just “yo”?

          • Matt M says:

            Ack, just realized I linked the wrong video above. It was intended to go to an example of very explicitly Republican country rap. And past edit window…

            Correct link is here.

          • Aftagley says:

            Correct link is here.


          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s still going to the same rather non-political rap.

    • Matt M says:

      I think modern country has a lot of different subgenres, but at the highest level, it feels to me like there are two main ones – one of which is basically pop with country themes, and the other that relies heavily on rock or rap influences. At the risk of getting CW here, I might even call it “country for women” and “country for men.”

      Like, my fiance and I both listen to things that could be described as “modern country” but she listens to stuff like this whereas I listen to stuff like this and there’s really not a ton of crossover between what we like, aside from the fact that if we watch the Country Music Awards, some of both of our favorites will be in attendance.

      • Aftagley says:

        she listens to stuff like this

        First time hearing that song, and I’m legitimately confused how that qualifies as country. I get that he has that not-quite-southern country music accent that everyone in the genre affects, but it sounds poppy, has a pop beat, doesn’t have much in the way of traditional instrumentals and has that cliche pop message of “girl you’re beautiful and don’t even know it.”

        Focusing on the video, the singer is a traditional pop-esque pretty boy and the video even has background dancers. I don’t like trying to define what genres can and can’t be, but why is that country?

        • Jake R says:

          It’s got a steel guitar. Near as I can tell this is the dividing line for pop country.

        • Matt M says:

          Well not all of his songs are that poppy. This is one of his more country-sounding songs.

          And FWIW, his father was a reasonably famous country musician, and having been dragged along to one of his concerts, I can personally attest he’s capable of playing a pretty decent guitar.

          But there’s a lot of stuff nearly exactly like this that is called “country” and there has been for some time. They’re often referred to as “country ballads” and nearly every mainstream country artist since 1980 has had a couple on their albums.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Honestly, I think those songs are about equally country: one is country flavoured pop, and the other is country flavoured rock, or possibly Southern rock, that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Lynyrd Skynyrd album.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Apropos of nothing but the vfx in the Rhett video are quite good. Quite pointless–I’m not sure that film trick has any actual artistic meaning–but really well done and a cool effect.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I agree. Got tired of the song in pretty short order but the visuals kept me watching for a minute or two.

    • By-Ends says:

      Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were both members of the “outlaw country” movement. OK, the fact that Willie and Waylon were extremely popular by 1980 supports your point. But I don’t know if they should be taken as representative of country music in general at the time, any more than “alt-country” represents country music today.

      Why not mention Kenny Rogers, who sold far more records than either of them? I’m not sure what his politics were back then but recently he was one of the first celebrities to support Donald Trump as a candidate.

      • Matt M says:

        Indeed. Even after attaining immense popularity, those guys were still seen as part of a unique subgenre that presented itself as an alternative to the mainstream country establishment.

        • Nornagest says:

          In a sense, but it’s roughly the same as how folk-influenced rock and the British Invasion positioned themselves as alternatives to old-school Elvis-flavored rock and roll in the early Sixties, but were rock and roll by the late Sixties. The transition happened a bit later for outlaw country, but by the early to mid-70s it was mainstream in the country world.

      • keaswaran says:

        I was gonna say – if the examples of old country musicians are members of the Highwaymen, then you might as well take the example of new country musicians to be the Highwomen. They’ve definitely got a red-state cultural milieu, but it’s self-consciously feminist, gay-friendly, and multicultural.

      • Uribe says:

        But Kenny Rogers was a psychedelic rocker in the 60s.He wrote “What Condition my Condition Was in” the song that plays in the trippy Big Lebowski dream sequence when Jeff Bridges goes down the lane like a bowling ball. He became country later.

  38. hash872 says:

    Fun ways to change the US political system for the better (inspired by a couple of poly sci books I’ve read recently). Only the first one is an Actually Serious Idea, so don’t give me too hard of a time- just floating these out there for fun:

    1. The One I’m Kinda Serious About. Seeing as US states can allocate their electors to the Electoral College however they like as far as I can tell (Nebraska & Maine already have their own funky system): the other 48 states start to allocate proportionally, vs. winner take all. (This argument assumes basic familiarity with the US electoral system, I don’t feel like explaining it from scratch). I.e. right now Missouri gets 10 electors, and they’re on a winner take all basis- candidate A wins Missouri by 50.5% of the vote, he gets all 10. In this system, candidate A would get 5-6 electoral votes, and his opponent the remaining ones. (There would undoubtedly have to be rounding up rules).

    Argument why: with most states as winner take all now, vast vast swathes of Americans are literally disenfranchised- their votes are (literally) not counted. We’d still preserve the existing Electoral College system, but now Everyone’s Vote Counts, whether Republicans in California or Democrats in I dunno Utah. Seems like this would preserve the social compact a bit, without the radicalism of the Popular Vote system Democrats are pushing now. No Constitutional changes required.

    I am half serious about-

    2. The US (stealing a pretty good idea from China, I think?) forms councils or boards for specific long-term policy planning around key parts of the economy (I think we already have this for national security stuff). So we’d have a Tech Board, a Finance Board, a Higher Education Board, maybe a Manufacturing Board, and so on. Members would be appointed and serve terms like Federal Reserve members, and they’d be picked for expertise- academics, ex-CEOs, etc. Perhaps we’d have strict anti-lobbying rules (they’re not allowed to join their industry after their term is up) to prevent corruption.

    This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years. Maybe their one ‘power’ could be that they can introduce 1 bill per year into the House, which of course is free to vote it down, but gives them a bit more heft than mere advisors. Just a thought.

    I understanding this will literally never happen, but-

    3. Establish a minimum size to be a US ‘state’, and if your population is below that, you’re legally a territory a la Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. I think we’ve all heard the complaint ‘Wyoming gets as many Senators as California’ (the left never says that about Hawaii or Vermont, which are not *that* much bigger). Shooting from the hip I think 1 million should be the bare minimum size, though really 1.5 would be better (this would disenfranchise 10 states). The absurd political power waged by tiny states is a bit much, and there’s nothing legally new about the ‘territory’ designation. Everyone knows that even the smallest state gets 2 Senators and so on- but who’s to say what a ‘state’ is? ‘Territory’ is a concept that already exists, has for hundreds of years, and there’s no real reason why Wyoming is a ‘state’ but Puerto Rico is a ‘territory’.

    While this will essentially never happen, one thing that could make it slightly more palatable is that US citizens who are residents of a territory don’t pay federal income tax. You could let current small states vote on this in a referendum- lose political power in exchange for no federal income tax. With anti-tax feeling in the US high, it might be a closer bet than you’d think (I think the Treasury could afford to lose Wyoming’s tax receipts).

    Edit to include: Yes, disenfranchising 5-10 states against their will is of course politically impossible. But if you just passed a bill that said ‘well if you’d like to reduce your taxes, you can pass this via referendum….’. If Wyoming voluntarily disenfranchises itself- who’s to argue?

    • cassander says:

      with most states as winner take all now, vast vast swathes of Americans are literally disenfranchised- their votes are (literally) not counted

      if your 3 friends want to go to lunch at mcdonalds and you don’t bother to argue for going to burger king, you’re not being disenfranchised, you’re just losing the vote.

      This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years.

      ah, unaccountable power. What’s not to love? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s great work if you can get it, but we won’t all get it, will we?

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        if your 3 friends want to go to lunch at mcdonalds and you don’t bother to argue for going to burger king, you’re not being disenfranchised, you’re just losing the vote.

        This has absolutely nothing to do with hash872’s argument. What you’re describing is a simple popular vote, i.e. what we would have in the US if we abolished the electoral college entirely.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Hash is saying my vote as a Republican doesn’t count in Illinois because Illinois always goes Democratic. This is wrong. I am just outvoted.

          If my 3 friends always vote to go to McDonald’s, I am not being disenfranchised when we always go to McDonald’s. I am just outvoted.

          • hash872 says:

            Voting in the US federal system, with the electors in the middle between the voters & the candidates, can’t be reduced to the McDonald’s analogy, sorry. The sum of all the losing voters in all the winner-take-all states is absolutely enormous and, expressed as a proportional number of electors, could be enough to swing an election. If we’d had proportional elector representation for the past 200+ years, several presidential elections would’ve gone differently, including the most recent one.

            The number of disenfranchised Republicans in California alone is probably larger than several US states

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            It’s counted (and outvoted) in Illinois. It’s not counted in the national total that actually determines the outcome of the election. If it were, you could combine your minority Republican vote with Californian Republican’s minority votes so they actually had an effect proportional to the number of voters.

            We’re talking about a situation where, nationally, the minority “outvoted” side sometimes wins, so the McDonald’s scenario is clearly not analogous.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “This system seems unfair” is quite a stretch from “people are actually disenfranchised.” Votes are cast and counted according to the rules set-up under the Constitution and which Illinois agreed to when it joined the union.

            Disenfranchised would be if Illinois State Police sat outside the polling station and wouldn’t let me vote unless I signed a loyalty oath to vote for Joe Biden.

            Also, if I have a group of 10 friends, and 4 want to go to McDonald’s, it’s not obvious to me why we should all go to McDonald’s just because they got 4 and Burger King/Wendy’s both got 3. However, if that’s the rule system we set up more than 2 centuries ago, I could go with it. However, if you’re trying to toss out a rule that we all agreed on more than 2 centuries ago while arguing for blatant partisan advantage, I’m going to be pretty damn suspicious.

          • hash872 says:

            I’m not sure if you caught the original comment, but the Constitution allows states to allocate electors as they see fit, and Nebraska and Maine already use a non-winner take all system. No radical change is taking place here, and it’s not partisan as the EC does not favor one party or another over a long enough time horizon (fun fact, John Kerry came quite close to winning the EC & losing the popular vote in 2004). I’m not even going to address the McDonald’s analogy.

            I’m afraid that even discussing the EC has activated everyone’s Preset Partisan Views, so people read half the comment and then run DefaultPartisanView script. My aim was a good faith attempt to have everyone’s vote in every state to be counted, not to favor one party or another

          • cassander says:


            I’m afraid that even discussing the EC has activated everyone’s Preset Partisan Views, so people read half the comment and then run DefaultPartisanView script. My aim was a good faith attempt to have everyone’s vote in every state to be counted, not to favor one party or another

            But that’s the thing, by casting the debate as “the EC means literally not counting people’s votes” when it doesn’t actually do that, you’ve made the argument more partisan, not less, and makes it feel like you’re not arguing in good faith. I don’t think that was your intent, and I do think you are arguing in good faith, but the current system does count everyone’s vote. 50 state elections vs. 1 national election might or might not be bad policy, but it’s not disenfranchising anyone.

          • hash872 says:


            Hmm, OK, let me think about how to rephrase it. And again, as of last year around a quarter of California voters are Republicans.

            State residents’ votes for president are only counted now at the state level, for the purpose of allocating electors to one side or another. They’re effectively not counted (in 48 states) at the federal level. To tack right a bit- the 1 in 4 California Republicans and almost 4 in 10 Illinois Republicans do not have an *effective* vote for President. We can still have 50 state elections without winner-take-all. (Imagine you were designing a new Electoral College from scratch. What would be the argument *for* winner take all electors?)

            Democracies are supposed to function by reaching a consensus- not that we reach the optimal outcome, but the one that the majority of voters can be kinda satisfied with. Giving voters effective votes at the federal level for the most important office is a mild, non-dramatic and but pro-democracy step in that direction. It’s also non-partisan. It can help reduce polarization (a bit) by preventing the US from deteriorating into Balkanized provinces that are 100% red or 100% blue, with zero in-between. Some of consensus kumbaya stuff is a bit symbolic and wooey, but I think emotional pro-unity symbolism stuff helps at the margins.

            Deteriorating into a failed state Is Bad, and the US should take minor non-partisan steps to make everyone feel included and that their vote counts, even if it’s a bit handwavey. California Republicans & Texas Democrats intuitively understand that their vote doesn’t ‘count’, even if you have technical or pedantic arguments that it does. Tens of millions of people feeling that way = bad

          • cassander says:

            @hash872 says:

            State residents’ votes for president are only counted now at the state level, for the purpose of allocating electors to one side or another. They’re effectively not counted (in 48 states) at the federal level.

            No votes are counted at the federal level. the US does not have a federal election for president, it has 50 state elections.

            (Imagine you were designing a new Electoral College from scratch. What would be the argument *for* winner take all electors?)

            State government more accountable than the federal, so I want to vest as much political identity at the state level as possible. I want one senator per state who serves at the pleasure of the state’s governor. I want the presidential eligibility limited to former governors and cabinet officers. Hell, I’d even be fine with the governors electing a president college of cardinals style.

            Fundamentally, I don’t think the current EC setup matters that much. If you abolished it you’d replace one quirky set of election outcomes with a different set that was equally quirky, just in different ways. For example, one of the benefits of the EC is making it harder to cheat by running up vote totals. doing so only matters in places where the statewide vote is close, and those are the places where there’s likely to be the most scrutiny.

            Democracies are supposed to function by reaching a consensus- not that we reach the optimal outcome, but the one that the majority of voters can be kinda satisfied with. Giving voters effective votes at the federal level for the most important office is a mild, non-dramatic and but pro-democracy step in that direction.

            I don’t think that the EC has a meaningful impact on the perceived legitimacy of american elections.

            It can help reduce polarization (a bit) by preventing the US from deteriorating into Balkanized provinces that are 100% red or 100% blue, with zero in-between.

            a national popular vote will have zero effect on that, even in theory. How could it? To take a ridiculously extreme example, imagine a California ballot measure to exile all the republicans. Under the EC, that is a bad idea for partisan democrats because it will move those republicans to a different state where they might tip the balance, and even if they don’t it will reduce CA’s EC count. Under the NPV, though, it’s a great idea that makes California more democratic.

            California Republicans & Texas Democrats intuitively understand that their vote doesn’t ‘count’, even if you have technical or pedantic arguments that it does. Tens of millions of people feeling that way = bad

            this is your best argument, but I don’t think it holds up. there’s an way to test it though! graph the voter participation rate against the partisan slide. I suspect there’s not a strong correlation, and if people are voting at the same level in texas as iowa, I think we can safely say that people don’t feel that way. Of course, there are a huge number of confounding factors, but it’s a good first step.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Selecting the EC as a major improvement to America’s democracy is a partisan position to take, particularly when the form of attack is to totally delegitimatize the EC and run alternate histories. Also, if we are opening up the can of worms to change the Presidential election system, why not change the rules further? If “none of the above” has a plurality, INCLUDING NON-VOTERS, no legitimate government can be formed and the election must be re-ran. How about a veto, since you mention consensus? If a quarter of the population votes “HELL NO!” on you, you automatically are ruled out of becoming President, even if you get 75% of the remaining vote.

            Why not alter the powers of the office, specifically with regard to majority or minority vote shares? Presidents without a majority vote share are limited in the number of Justices they are permitted to appoint and their confirmations must pass with super-majority, since they lack mandate.

          • What would be the argument *for* winner take all electors?

            The one argument I can think of is that it reduces the opportunity for electoral fraud.

            Electoral fraud is easiest if one party has solid control over the state government. With winner take all, there is no payoff to fraud in such a state in the presidential vote. With a proportional system, if you actually have 60% of the vote it’s worth pushing the count to 70% to get a few more electoral votes for your side.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            +1 to David Friedman. Cheaters in Texas or California could turn up 5% more votes in a bunch of reliably red/blue districts, and just claim turnout was unusually good this time.

            While I have criticized vote-by-mail for allowing some kinds of fraud (vote intimidation or vote-selling), it can resist this kind of fraud. You have the physical ballots wrapped in an envelope and could, in theory, verify the legitimacy of the voter before you count their vote. (But this requires a secretary-of-state that wants to detect that kind of potential fraud, and if we assume they are trying to cheat, they’ll come up with excuses not to bother.)

        • cassander says:

          A Definite Beta Guy got it exactly.

      • fibio says:

        if your 3 friends want to go to lunch at mcdonalds

        I feel like this is the set up to a two wolves and a lamb joke.

        Four students want to get lunch. One wants to go to MacDonalds, one wants to go to Burger King, one wants a cheeseburger, one is just after some deep fried chicken, two of them can’t stand Sprite, one is late on his term paper, three of them are drunk, one is hung over, none of them have showered this week and only one of them can drive. He goes to Denny’s.

    • drunkfish says:

      states start to allocate proportionally

      I agree this would be better for the US as a whole, but there’s no incentive for individual states to do it. If you figure states are controlled by their majority party, then the group controlling the state would have to voluntarily give up votes for their party, for essentially no benefit.

      I think the national popular vote interstate compact is a much better approach to this general idea, because it solves the coordination problem with a compact: You commit to follow the rules conditioned on the fact that other states follow too.

      • Jitters says:

        Couldn’t we do this with a compact too?

        As I can see it right now, red states aren’t interested in joining the NPVIC and swing states would be giving up their own power by doing so. Just the blue states isn’t enough to get to 270.

        A Proportional Representation Compact could conceivably get both red and blue states to agree.

      • mitv150 says:

        Oddly, given the context of this discussion, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact requires the actual disenfranchisement of each participant state’s voters.

        It makes their vote within their particular voting system subject to the say-so of outside legal entities.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      A notion I’ve seen. I have no idea what the effects would be, but it’s not obviously wrong.

      Congress no longer meets in DC. All the official business is done remotely.

      • johan_larson says:

        I suspect that would change very little. As I understand it, the official meetings of congress are a very minor part of the work of congressmen. The actual work of congress is figuring out what legislation to write. That’s a very complicated matter that requires extensive consultation and negotiation with other congressmen and other interested parties. That sort of interpersonal behavior really truly benefits from direct contact, meaning those who are willing to show up in person wherever there is a critical mass of other decision-makers have a real advantage over those who just dial in remotely.

        If the US did allow remote participation in the work of congress, I expect everyone who expected to have any real influence to continue to work in Washington. Doing anything else would advertising (at best) semi-pro status.

    • This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning.

      The issue isn’t ability, it’s incentive.

      On the private market, long term planning depends on secure property rights — in order to bear costs now for benefits well into the future I have to be reasonable sure that I am the one who will get those benefits. On the political market, actors don’t have secure property rights. A politician who does politically costly things today in order to get benefits a decade or two later knows that he is unlikely to still be in office when the benefits become visible.

      He could still do it if the voters had a long time horizon and so rewarded him well before the benefits appeared. But knowing whether future benefits are real or make believe requires a good deal of effort, and voters are rationally ignorant. So politicians claim long term policies but act in terms of benefits at the next election, or possibly the one after that.

      • hash872 says:

        The boards/councils could plan & make recommendations, both public and private, and hopefully have the President, Congress, and the national security state’s ear. Plus my tentatively proposed ‘they can introduce 1 bill a year in the House’ rule, which would be more for publicity and influence- ‘the Tech board says x policy is good so now some politicians are supporting it’, etc. I’m not overstating how effective this would be, just that it’d be a step in the general right direction. (My priors are pro-elites and anti-populism).

        I basically agree with what you’re saying, but the unelected Federal Reserve- made of up of sober subject matter experts- looks to me to be one of the most functional parts of the US government right now. I’m looking for a quasi-democratic way to incorporate more expertise into our system

    • ana53294 says:

      In the previous discussion of changing the electoral college allocation, I learnt it was basically a problem of the commons.

      No single state has an incentive to do it. Sure, if Republican’s votes in California counted for something, Alabama could agree to also proportionally assign votes. But can Alabama trust California to do it? Since this deal would result in more Republican than Democrat EC votes, would California agree to this?

      The thing is, this is a position that is argued by one side while they keep winning the popular vote. The time when this will get tested is when assigning electoral votes proportionally will result in your political opponent.

      I assert that California will never, in a million years, allow the winning electoral college vote go to Trump, even if the signed an agreement on a meaningless compact that’s absolutely unenforcable. So why would other states give their votes to their political opponents?

      • keaswaran says:

        > I assert that California will never, in a million years, allow the winning electoral college vote go to Trump, even if the signed an agreement on a meaningless compact that’s absolutely unenforcable.

        I’m not exactly sure how this would work. If the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact goes into effect, then everyone says all year that their electoral votes will go to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. Say that at the election, some Republican wins the popular vote nationwide. How is California going to stop their electoral votes from going to that candidate? Will the legislature call a special emergency lame-duck session in between the election and the meeting of the electoral college to overturn their accession to the NPVIC? This isn’t like an individual signing a contract promising to do something, where the impetus for actually doing the thing still comes at the end from a single mind deciding to do it, but rather needs a massive organization to move quickly to change its mind.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          then everyone says all year that their electoral votes will go to the winner of the popular vote nationwide

          That’s nice.

          Then, the day after Election Day, a Federal Judge decides “no, screw you, and screw the carefully negotiated plan that you got all relevant parties to agree ahead of tine was fair to all parties. I decide now that this is disenfranchising Billy Bob. Toss it out.”

    • Garrett says:

      Additional possible change: Change voting system for individual directly-elected offices. Eg. Representatives are now elected via instant-runoff elections or something. I believe this can be done on a per-State basis without requiring changes to the Constitution or Federal law.

      • keaswaran says:

        California already works with the jungle primary that Louisiana used to (that is, everyone runs in a single primary, and the top two finishers go on to a “runoff” at the general election) and Maine has started using instant-runoff. So yes, this can be done on a per-state basis.

    • Jaskologist says:

      This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years.

      This already exists in the form of the US Bureaucracy. It’s why the CDC was so famously effective in its anti-COVID efforts.

    • Nick says:

      2. The US (stealing a pretty good idea from China, I think?) forms councils or boards for specific long-term policy planning around key parts of the economy (I think we already have this for national security stuff). So we’d have a Tech Board, a Finance Board, a Higher Education Board, maybe a Manufacturing Board, and so on. Members would be appointed and serve terms like Federal Reserve members, and they’d be picked for expertise- academics, ex-CEOs, etc. Perhaps we’d have strict anti-lobbying rules (they’re not allowed to join their industry after their term is up) to prevent corruption.

      This could help solve democracy’s most famous problem- inability to do long-term planning. Subject matter experts could be free to take the long view, to advance the interests of the US within their field without having to run for election every x number of years. Maybe their one ‘power’ could be that they can introduce 1 bill per year into the House, which of course is free to vote it down, but gives them a bit more heft than mere advisors. Just a thought.

      I don’t really have an opinion on the approach, but I would point out we’ve had an industrial policy before, which it sounds to me is what you really want. American Affairs has been harping on this point since its inception, e.g. here.

    • Two McMillion says:

      As far as “Changes that would help and could actually happen”, one possibility is electing Senators by approval voting. Approval voting tends to elect middle of the road, agreeable candidates, which is what you need for the Senate to work well. Both Republicans and Democrats would like this plan because it would increase their party’s influence in electing Senators in places where they currently have little influence.

      Increasing the size of the House to 1000 members would improve local representation (an important issue to conservatives) and reduce malapportionment (an important issue to democrats).

      Having everybody do their primary elections on the same day would help everyone except Iowa and New Hampshire.

    • FLWAB says:

      The absurd political power waged by tiny states is a bit much

      Are you kidding me?

      Have you ever lived in a tiny state? I have. I’ve lived in several. And while a mathmatical breakdown might say that my vote counts more than a vote in California, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When you only have 1 representative in the House, it certainly doesn’t feel like you have power. In fact, it feels quite the opposite: it feels like the federal government can do whatever it wants to your state, and there isn’t much you can do about it. It feels like nobody cares about your vote: no presidential candidates ever stop and campaign, no political commentators ever wonder which way your state will turn. Nobody cares about what Wyoming wants.

      And this is a bigger deal than it seems because many of these tiny states have huge amounts of their land owned by the federal government. Do you know how long Alaskans have wanted to drill in the ANWR? It would have really helped the state, and they could have done it without wrecking the environment. But no can do, that’s federal land and the big states, the ones thousands of miles away with no skin in the game, have decided it’s too risky. Or maybe you want to build a road from your small town to the closest town with a hospital. Surely we can handle that at a local level? But no, it goes through federal land and the Secretary of the Interior who has never even set foot in your state, much less your town, has decided the road might be too dangerous to birds. Birds she will never see, and whose existence will not effect her one way or another.

      Look, I get it. Mathmatically an Alaskan’s vote is “worth more” than a New Yorkers. But when people go around saying things like “tiny states have absurd power, lets take that power away” it reads the same as the biggest, strongest, and richest bully on the playground taking the youngest and smallest kid’s lunch money. Wyoming has nothing. It doesn’t decide elections. Nobody cares about Wyoming’s so called absurd power when it comes to actual federal elections. But apparently even that small, tiny, measly scrap of political power is more than small states deserve.

      It gets my dander up, it does.

      • Randy M says:

        Now that you describe it, it seems a bit of a slight of hand.
        Yes, a single North Dakotan vote is more weighty than a single Californian, in terms of EC. But single voters are laughably irrelevant on a national scale anyways. What matters is the size of your coalition. If you share enough commonalities with the typical voter in your state, you are going to have an advantage.

      • Nick says:

        I’m not sure it’s even true in aggregate. Take a look at this page, which has estimated population per electoral vote:

        If you sort by that column, you’ll see that the state with the worst ratio is Texas. Then Florida, then California. The states with the best ratio meanwhile are Wyoming, Vermont, DC, Alaska, North Dakota, Rhode Island; three red, three blue. Small states are advantaged, but it doesn’t follow that Republicans are advantaged.

        It feels like nobody cares about your vote: no presidential candidates ever stop and campaign, no political commentators ever wonder which way your state will turn. Nobody cares about what Wyoming wants.

        You’ve touched tangentially, actually, on one of the advantages of the EC. Presidential candidates campaign in the places where they believe they can affect the most votes. This has been true under the EC, and it would be true under the NPVIC. But the dynamic would change. Under the EC, candidates at least have reason to appeal to relatively more rural states and regions; there’s not a New York City in every state. But by bypassing it, they have no reason to anymore: those votes are just too expensive to try to swing to their side. So the race becomes focused even more on cities and suburbs with relatively large populations of swing voters. Because of the nature of campaigning, you’re effectively locking huge swathes of the population, and the country, out of the race.

        • Matt M says:

          I also suspect that a national popular vote would further exacerbate the perceived (I’m still uncertain whether this is actually true) notion that candidates are better served “getting out the vote” (by appealing to the extreme fringes of their own party) than by trying to win-over independents or undecideds.

          In a national popular vote world, Hillary Clinton is probably best served spending pretty much all of her time in New York and California, trying to drive turnout among those places that overwhelmingly support her. Not only would she still not go to Wisconsin, she wouldn’t go to Virginia or Florida or Pennsylvania either…

      • Jon S says:

        Nobody campaigns in winner-take-all states that aren’t competitive. They do campaign a lot in the few small states that are competitive. NH has 4 electoral votes, but presidential candidates campaign a lot there (even in the general election). Nobody campaigns in CA (though they do fundraise there). All else equal, rational candidates should campaign more in the small states relative to those states’ populations.

      • Controls Freak says:

        Look, I get it. Mathmatically an Alaskan’s vote is “worth more” than a New Yorkers.

        According to what metric? I can think of a bunch of them. I can probably guess the metric you’re using, but I can guess others that don’t rank things the same. For example, 538’s “voter power index” does give the same pairwise Alaska v. NY ranking, but it gives many others that are quite different from your metric. And I’m pretty sure if our metric is, “Is worth more for determining New York’s electors,” an Alaskan’s vote is decidedly worth less.

        There are a whole lot of metrics you could use here; you can’t just appeal to “math”; you need to argue why any one particular metric should be privileged over all the other possible metrics.

      • JPNunez says:

        When you only have 1 representative in the House, it certainly doesn’t feel like you have power.

        You still get two senators in the senate, tho.

        So it’s both the EC and the Senate that gets you overrepresented and the House gets you less represented, but even just on the house, probably still more represented than voters of many more populous states.

        • FLWAB says:

          Like I said, I know that mathmatically a state like Alaska has more representation per person. But on an absolute level, big states still have way more power. So wanting to take away representation from small states is still analogous to the richest, biggest, strongest kids on the playground deciding to take the smaller kids lunch money.

          Or to put it another way: Alaska decided in 1975 to rename Mt. McKinley to Denali, and changed all state resources to match that name. They also requested that the federal government recognize the name change as well. Even with “overrepresentation” in the Senate and House it took forty years before the federal government recognized the name change, all because a single senator from Ohio kept blocking it. And the name only got changed because Obama himself went to Alaska for some global warming photo-ops and as a presidential gift signed an EO officially changing the name.

          Now remember that 60% of Alaska is federal land, and you might realize that if changing the name of a mountain took 40 years, doing anything of substance (like mining or logging) is an even bigger boondoggle. And you wold argue that even the small amount of power Alaska has is too much?

    • keaswaran says:

      Doing the electoral college proportionally raises some really weird issues for smallish states. There are a few natural ways to do the cutoffs for proportional elections. If you have 3 electors to select, then you could either say that a candidate gets 0 electors with 0-25% of the vote, 1 with 25-50%, 2 with 50-75%, and 3 with 75-100%; or you could say that a candidate gets 0 electors with 0-16.66% of the vote, 1 with 16.66-50%, 2 with 50-83.333%, and 3 with 83.333-100%. (The latter is what you get if you multiply the fraction of the vote by 3 and round to the nearest integer, while the former divides into equal bands.) I think out of the currently existing 3 vote states, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, and both Dakotas would be perpetually 2-1 for Republicans, DC would be perpetually 0-3, and Vermont might be a swing between 1-2 and 0-3 under the first system. Out of the states with 4 electoral votes, I think Idaho would be perpetually 3-1, New Hampshire would be perpetually 2-2, and I think Rhode Island and Hawaii would be perpetually 1-3 (though perhaps Rhode Island would be a swing from 2-2 to 1-3).

      Meanwhile, California, Texas, New York, and Florida would always have several swing votes.

      So you wouldn’t be able to get votes everywhere. You’d still have swing states and perpetually fixed states, but the swing states would be the largest ones. So you’d get the worst of the accusations each side lodges at the other – a distinction between swing and fixed states that the popular vote supporters hate, and a greater emphasis on the large states that the electoral vote supporters hate.

  39. FLWAB says:

    New Trump executive order commands federal agencies to cut or waive regulations on business in order to help the economy recover from Coronavirus.

    Agencies should address this economic emergency by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery, consistent with applicable law and with protection of the public health and safety, with national and homeland security, and with budgetary priorities and operational feasibility.

    Notably it also requires that all federal agencies should “bear the burden of proving an alleged violation of law; the subject of enforcement should not bear the burden of proving compliance.” Which I think is a big deal: as far as I understand it, if the EPA slaps you with a fine you generally have to prove that the fine was unwarranted. This EO shifts that burden of proof.

    I have heard some commentators saying that this EO is unique in American history because it is the only time that a President has reacted to a state of emergency by giving up power instead of grabbing more. Can anyone think of a counterexample?

    • sharper13 says:

      So you’re saying Trump isn’t a fascist dictator who wants to control everything just like Hitler?

      More seriously, this does seem like a positive twist on the “never let a crisis go to waste” theory of government. Unfortunately, it follows a wee bit of what might be considered excessive spending, of which the jury is still out on how temporary or permanent that spending is going to end up being, sucking resources toward government re-allocation.

      • Garrett says:

        What one President can do with a phone and a pen another can do with the same.
        Really improving things would require a change in Federal law. I’d like to see the EEOC eliminated, for example.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      by giving up power instead of grabbing more

      Federal agencies are created by Congress, and ultimately Congress has both oversight of them and the ability to modify their regulations (the President runs them). So is this the president giving up power, or favoring the balance of power toward the presidency versus congress?

      • FLWAB says:

        The agencies are created by Congress, but they give more power to the Executive Branch. While Congress could force an agency to modify their regulations by passing a bill, the President can force them to add or change regulations with a memo. Agencies like the EPA are given a mandate by Congress, but they generally determine how that mandate will be carried out which gives them significant power. That power ultimately belongs to the President, which is why he can order all agencies to stop enforcing bothersome regulations with a stroke of his pen and without Congress’s input.

  40. TimG says:

    I’m looking for science book recommendations. I want to say “popular science” — because I’m not looking for text books or those that expect significant expertise in the subject — but I am fairly scientifically literate so a lot of “popular science” books I find too basic.

    In terms of subjects, I’m open to anything — but I think I gravitate toward life sciences. Lately I’ve been really interested in what we’ve learned about the world through our recent ability to (genetically) sequence everything. I would also say that I prefer books that spend more time on the science and less on the history of the scientists that discovered it (this may just be a way to pad a subject to book-length.)

    The most recent book I read was Some Assembly Required. I loved the subject matter. But the science didn’t go very deep. I didn’t learn a whole lot — other than the history of the science around genetics. As I said above, I find the history part way less interesting.

    So if you’ve read something recently that you really recommend, I’d love to hear it!

    • Bobobob says:

      The Vital Question, about the role of mitochondria in the evolution of life, has previously been name-checked here. It’s an excellent book.

      Also recommended:

      Richard Dawkins, The Concestor’s Tale
      Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
      Christian de Duve, Vital Dust

      There’s also Lynn Margulis’ Five Kingdoms, which is kind of a cross between a popular science book and a textbook.

      I know there are more, they will come to me eventually.

      • Lambert says:

        +1 for Dawkins’ biology books.

      • TimG says:

        Right up my alley! I’ve read the Vital Question a couple years ago. Really enjoyed it.

        I had read The Selfish Gene many years ago and found it mind-altering. Then I got turned off from Dawkins after he got on his atheism kick (this coming from an atheist.). Maybe I’ll give him another try.

        I’d read some Dennett long ago. Is Darwin’s Dangerous Idea more science or more philosophy. I feel lame saying it, by philosophy bores me.

        Thanks for the suggestions!

        • keaswaran says:

          The Ancestor’s Tale is a great book – probably the best he wrote since The Selfish Gene.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich. An introduction to recent advances in population genetics by one of the most prominent scientists in the field. It functions like a history of different peoples.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Mathematics – the new Golden Age by Keith Devlin is an excellent pop maths book.

      • TimG says:

        Hadn’t heard of that. Adding it to my list.

        Just curious: how much of the book is Math and how much is History of Math?

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          It’s a long while since I read it, but from what I recall it’s almost all talking about ideas, not people, with some of those ideas presented in chronological succession so you can see how the steps a problem was solved in.

    • Dragor says:

      You have probably already been recommended Superforecasting, The Righteous Mind, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Secret of Our Success et cetera.

      Good books you maybe haven’t been recommended: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, The Dictator’s Handbook, and Make it Stick.

      • TimG says:

        I almost picked up Superforecasting some time back. For some reason I got the impression is was more “popular” than “science.” What was your experience?

        • Dragor says:

          It’s good science, and it’s quite respected in its field, but it makes you want to pick up a hobby you probably don’t have the time to learn sooooooo if you’re inclined to scrupulosity induced insecurity, I guess it could be harmful. If you actually are in the mood for developing a new characteristic, it’s great. In either case, it gives some useful lenses to view the world.

    • For more-advanced-than-usual popular science books related to life sciences, I strongly recommend everything by Steven Vogel — essentially biomechanics, about how the machinery of living things work. Fascinating and charmingly written. “Life in Moving Fluids” is a classic; I particularly like “Life’s Devices.”

      Somewhat similar: “On Size and Life” by Thomas McMahon & John Tyler Bonner.

      Philip Ball and Nick Lane are other authors I’d recommend.

      Though it’s at the usual technical level of popular science books, “The Gene: An Intimate History”
      by Siddhartha Mukherjee is excellent (especially the first two-thirds).

      At the risk of being self-serving, I’ll note that I’m writing a popular science book that will cover, among other things, the DNA sequencing revolution. It’s described here, and there’s a link to a Google Form near the bottom of the post if you’d like an email when it’s complete.

      • TimG says:

        Oh, wow. I hadn’t heard of Steven Vogel. Looks like my kind of writer. I’m about to give The Life of a Leaf a try!

        BTW, your book looks like the kind of thing I’d really enjoy. How far away is the publishing date?

        • Thanks! I think the publication date is some time in 2021, though this is to be determined. I’m under contract to finish writing late this summer, and there is typically a few months of review. I’m not actually sure what determines the timeline after that.

      • keaswaran says:

        I was going to recommend Bright Earth by Philip Ball – it’s about the history of paint pigment, which sounds weird and niche, but is a book I’ve kept referring back to in many conversations over the past decade! It also helped me understand so much more about the history of art, and how some movements were driven by the invention of new pigments (like the differences between Raphael and Caravaggio, and the colors of the impressionists).

      • zzzzort says:

        Holy crap, I hadn’t read your user name. I didn’t realize you were writing a book; super excited to read it!

    • zzzzort says:

      Shroedinger’s ‘What is life’ is surprisingly readable, if more philosophical than biological.

      I’ve heard good things about Yong’s ‘I contain multitudes’, but I haven’t read it yet.

      And lastly, I really liked ‘Life as a matter of fat’, but it’s very close to my own research interests probably too much of a text book. I had to mention it though.

      • TimG says:

        I feel bad that I didn’t know about What is Life. I generally shy away from philosophy. But I think the author sells that one. Added to the list!

        I Contain Multitudes is going to the top of the list 😉


    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I recently read an old book, Life Ascending, by Nick Lane, a biochemist who talks about the biochemical basis for some major evolutionary innovations in life’s history. He has some newer, and presumably more up to date books that I haven’t read, but I really enjoyed it.

      I am not qualified to judge how accurately he presented the material, but it was pretty science-y

  41. Elena Yudovina says:

    Recently a number of people who are generally in favor of aggressive anti-covid measures have spoken out about how stay-at-home orders may not be / have been worth it. There are a few flavors of this that I’ve seen, but the version I’m interested in goes something like “everyone responsible was already staying at home before orders, everyone irresponsible is ignoring them anyway, why are we adding insult to injury”. (Stylized, but I don’t think strawmanned out of recognition.)

    Both me and my husband have math-on-the-computer type jobs (data scientist and 3D computer vision). Before the stay-at-home guidance, both our groups’ managers had been adamant that we Cannot Work Effectively From Home because of the need for a lot of interaction between group members. (Both groups are now working from home unless it’s absolutely necessary to come into the office, both expect to continue the pattern for the foreseeable future, and in both cases it seems to be tolerably effective, although it’s probably too soon to tell if it’ll stay effective long-term.) There was maybe a week or two when working from home was “allowed if you’re not comfortable coming into the office”, but the official position at our offices didn’t switch to “you should not be in the office” until our state declared a stay-at-home order.

    So, my question: what does it take to get a manager who is gung-ho about face-to-face interaction to accept that, yes, we need to work from home whenever possible — that working from home should be the new norm, and coming into the office should be the exception? Does having a “stay-at-home order” help shift the cultural balance there, or is a “public health guideline” enough? (I’m not sure we had a gap between those, other than a generic impending feeling of doom for guidance.) I’m especially interested from anyone in a managerial position here who might have first-hand insight into how these things work.

    • cassander says:

      I’m a manager who believes in face to face interaction.

      What it took for me was the CEO telling us that the official policy was that anyone who wanted to work from home was allowed to do so on monday, and then on friday that everyone was working from home indefinitely and the cleaning crews wouldn’t be coming to the office. Had it not been for the second order, I’d have kept going into work a few days a week, and insisting that my team do so on occasion. I’d have done this because I’ve got deadlines to meet, and I know they work better when they’re in the same place.

      • DarkTigger says:

        This took several steps in the company I worked for.
        Sometimes in late February or early march the board send a mail: “A global pandemic would be really bad for our industry. To do our part in slowing the spread we stop using air planes for any company related travel activities, and ask the employees to do the same privatly.”

        Next day came a mail: “Everyone who was in Italy in the last 14 days is here by ordered to work from home for at least two weeks, and we ask you to self-isolate in that time.”

        Some days later: “Everyone who was in the following countries is here by ordered to work from home for the next two weeks: Italy, Spain, Southern France, Austria.”
        another day later: “The stay at home order is extended to people who went to Northrhine-Westphalia.”

        Wednesday the next week: “As an exercies for an posible lockdown, we ask all personal who’s presence is not absolutly necessary to stay home on friyday.”
        Wednesday evening the lockdown order by the goverment came, and so the “exercise” got extended indefenetly.

        And yes I agree, I’m a lot less productive from home. And my team has decided to take one office day a week by ourselfs. But on the other hand our management feared that in a situation like this, our customers, wouldn’t need us anyway, because they are closed as well. That’s the reason for the early measures.

      • matthewravery says:

        I know they work better when they’re in the same place.

        I mean, this was my management’s position as of 3 months ago. After seeing their employees work from home and still act like adults and do their jobs, we’ll almost certainly have looser work from home restriction moving forward. I guess YMMV.

        • Garrett says:

          How much of this is because:
          1) Indefinite work-from-home means setting up an effective solution? Eg. I took my monitors and docking station home from work when normally I’d just use my laptop.
          2) When working from the office is the norm, “work from home” is a way of not-quite taking a vacation day while not having to actually burn a PTO day?

          • matthewravery says:

            I think (1) matters a lot, but it’s as much from the corporate side (providing basic tools to enable distance working) than the home side. I will say that one of the first things I did (months ago, unrelated to COVID) when I know I would be teleworking was set myself up with a KVM switch so that I could use my home PC set-up for working. Trying to code (or really do anything that requires a lot of focus and multiple applications) off a laptop is a HUGE pain, in my experience.

            But this is a one-time thing and doesn’t cost much (<$100 for me).

            (2) wasn't a large concern, I think. We have a pretty high-trust work environment, and folks are treated as adults. And I've always thought that it's just as easy to fart around in the office as it is at home.

            The bigger issue (my guess) was the expectation that daily face-to-face interaction was critical for things like collaboration and espirit de corp. Regular video meetings between teams and chat tools have largely (IMO) put this to rest.* Or at least established that folks can be just as effective from home.

            I don’t think we’ll move to a model where most folks are working from home in the future, but I do think it’ll be more common on both ad hoc and scheduled bases moving forward.

            Part of me wonders how generational this is. I grew up with things like AIM from middle school onwards. I’ve had online friends that I didn’t meet in person for years. Voice chat, text chat, etc. are all native to me. Instead of “walk down the hall and knock on the door”, you just send someone a gchat or equivalent. I just don’t get the notion that physical proximity is necessary for building relationships with people. (Which isn’t to say it can’t be useful…)

          • DinoNerd says:

            Setup matters, but that’s one reason I like working from home. If you sit in an open office, you do most of your work anywhere except your desk, and because of that you do it on a laptop, without external monitors.

            Add cheap employers, who mandate a maximum of one external monitor per person, and that not very large – or tiny desks, to the same effect – and the home setup I created for my own convenience, with a KVM and two large monitors, looks really really good.

            OTOH, my brother-in-law started the lockdown by discovering that while his IT department had claimed they’d done as ordered and created an effective work from home environment for days when the office was closed due to bad weather (blizzard-prone location), when the lockdown forced them to test their setup, he discovered that the software he’d been told to install on his laptop didn’t actually work with what they had on their servers.

            Of course this was made more exciting by my sister (his wife) coming down with what in retrospect was a bad cold, right at the same time.

            He’s successfully working from home now, but from a very rocky start.

          • DinoNerd says:


            Part of me wonders how generational this is. I grew up with things like AIM from middle school onwards. I’ve had online friends that I didn’t meet in person for years.

            I’m 62, so a bit of a counter-example – but OTOH I’ve been in tech for most of those years, and first worked from home briefly (without net connectivity) in 1985, so maybe not much of a counter-example.

            The next(?) year we got onto Usenet, and could exchange messages with academics in Israel with only a 24-hour turnaround. We started collaborating up a storm ;-()

            And I’m not a manager, having successfully dodged that bullet except for a very brief period in the early 80s.

          • Part of me wonders how generational this is. I grew up with things like AIM from middle school onwards. I’ve had online friends that I didn’t meet in person for years.

            You don’t specify your generation. I was born in 1945 and I had and have online friends I didn’t meet in person for years, or still haven’t met.

        • DisconcertedLoganberry says:

          Upper management in our area have said that they’re pleased the productivity measures they use haven’t fallen in the almost 3 months we’ve been working from home, however they’ve highlighted a few things they’re concerned about.

          – People might be working longer hours without tracking them. Part of this is willingness from not having a commute, but part of this might be not being able to go out at all.
          – Almost no one is taking PTO. They’re expecting it to cause issues when people are able to go places and all want to take PTO at once. They’ve warned that they’re likely to actually use the clause in our contracts saying they can deny requests to use PTO which hitherto has been pretty unheard of (for engineers at least) to the point where almost none of us know how to use the official system to get time off approved. Anyone near the accrual limit is being asked to take time off now.

          • Aftagley says:

            People might be working longer hours without tracking them. Part of this is willingness from not having a commute, but part of this might be not being able to go out at all.

            I am probably working at least 1-2 hours extra each day because of these factors, as well as kind of a reinforcing bias. If everyone else is still working at 5, that means I might get new taskers/emails at 5, which means I’m going to be working until 6.

        • cassander says:

          First, temporary work from home for people used to the office is different from full time work from home being the norm.

          Second, it’s not just individual productivity, it’s the benefits of being in a shared space and interacting with people there. We have another team that does similar work to mine that is scattered around the world and all remote. I see the connections that fly on the rare occasions you them in the same room and how much gets done that wouldn’t be otherwise, because A has a problem/solution that B doesn’t know about and wouldn’t think to ask about.

          We definitely will have loser work from home rules going forward, but I’m not a fan.

          • matthewravery says:

            IDK what kind of work you do, but one thing that’s been an obvious productivity booster to me is greater control of when I switch contexts of my work. In the office, I’m subject to the whims of everyone walking by my office. If they want to chat, they knock. It may be important, it may not be important, but regardless, I’ve got to take my head up out of my keyboard and have an interaction. This can be a major pain and slow my work substantially.

            Having someone talk to me in person makes it more likely that I’ll address whatever their concern is immediately rather than wait until I’m at a natural stopping point. This add cognitive load and decreases productivity.

            The extent to which this occurs probably depends a lot on the type of work environment and type of work you’re doing, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

          • AG says:

            In contrast, the person who talked to you that got their concern addressed immediately had their productivity increased.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Couple things:
      1. I may be a manager, but that means I have to play politics with other managers. Some managers are not allowed to have their people work from home and become quite jealous.
      2. If you miss a deliverable or otherwise become difficult to work with for any reason, many of which may be no fault of your own, it is very easy for other managers to point at your lack of office presence as the key driver. It is an easy scapegoat, and many managers like easy scapegoats, just like anyone else.
      3. Other managers and other teams have preferred methods of working, and many of them want face-to-face contact. I still have people that call me, even knowing that I need to share a screen with them (Which requires Zoom, which our company pays for us to use). But 90% of their communication IS calling, so they don’t want to adjust their 10%.
      4. A lot of comradery is built up with in-person interactions. This is important social capital. It is as important as anything else you do. The company cannot function without social capital. Most people don’t function well as a team if they all dislike or distrust each other.
      5. Some things are just easier to discuss face-to-face. Actually it’s a lot easier to explain math stuff face-to-face, at least to non-numbers people. I can see when people’s eyes are glazing over, I can see when they are getting frustrated, I can see when they “get it.” I cannot do this as easily over the phone and I definitely cannot do it over email. You can be the smartest person in the room and it does not matter if no one understands you.
      6. I don’t want you to just understand what you do, I need you to understand what other people do and how you fit into a team. A very smart person got a bit sassy with me today because I blocked a whole bunch of new products: the new products were coming in at such a high cost that a flagship company capital investment was about to have its margin slashed quite significantly. Apparently I violated some sort of sacred protocol because certain costs were supposed to be questioned earlier (long before I ever saw them). Yeah, that guy doesn’t “get it,” I am the Veto Point, and I get to exercise Veto above any other established procedure or process because I am the Veto Point that makes sure we don’t roll a cost that bankrupts us.

      That being said, there’s a lot more support for WFH now. I don’t know what the New Normal will be. I am hoping 2-3 days WFH becomes standard. That will open up a LOT more jobs for me. I cannot take jobs in downtown Chicago because the daily commute is between 2.5 and 3 hours: that’s not as bad if I only have to make it twice a week.

      • I cannot do this as easily over the phone and I definitely cannot do it over email.

        Why can’t you do it with Skype or one of its competitors?

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          For most, limited screen space. I typically have to show numbers to multiple people and multiple people do not display on a screen very well while I am also screen-sharing. And I work on a big screen TV.

          Also, most people do not want to use the webcam. It feels invasive. They don’t engage as well with a screen as they do a person anyways.

    • DinoNerd says:

      what does it take to get a manager who is gung-ho about face-to-face interaction to accept that, yes, we need to work from home whenever possible

      Damned if I know. Before the covid-19 epidemic, my management had drunk the open office Koolaid – the best possible setting for effective software engineering is a crowded room with glass walls (providing both total lack of visual privacy and lots of echoes).

      Or they’d drunk the save-money-by-packing-engineers-into-sardine-cans, but-tell-them-it’s-to-improve-productivity-and-they’ll-feel-good-about-it Koolaid, like my immediately previous employer. (That employer was caught saying one thing to managers and something else to engineers; I choose to believe what they told the managers.)

      Realistically, I do better when I’m not isolated, and when I can get help fast – less well when I can’t think straight for the noise – but unless you are a manager, your chance of getting a workspace where you can hear yourself think is negligible. (Managers often have large, empty private offices they visit once or twice a day between meetings ;-()

      Forced to chose between sitting in a 1960s typing pool layout, and having next to no contact with coworkers, guess which I pick? I’m loving the increased use of Slack and video meetings brought on by the lockdown.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s hard to imagine that there’s any savings available from economizing on office space at the cost of decreasing your software engineers’ productivity.

        • Lambert says:

          Makes you wonder what area of office space costs as much as each employee’s salary.

          • johan_larson says:

            It’s odd that the question of how much space and privacy white-collar workers need to be productive is even up for debate. There are a lot of white-collar workers, they do valuable work, and many of them work for large, sophisticated organizations that can afford to spend some money on research. You’d think this would be one of the most carefully studied issues in all of management literature.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            You have to give up a lot of office space to just squeeze in one more employee.
            Our staff makes around $70k. Plus the fringes, and using Google’s estimate of $40/sq ft, an employee’s annual wage is equivalent to about 2400 sq ft. That’s a big suburban house.

            A better comparison is that a 6×6 cubicle costs you $1400, and 10×10 office costs you $4800. And it’s actually worse than that, because you can shove cubicles right on top of each other, which you can’t with offices, and offices probably require more support work with walls, electricity, hvac, etc.

            An extra few thousand per employee isn’t anything to sneeze at. If you asked an employee “would you rather increase your cubicle size from 6×6 to 10×10 or get an extra 5% in your 401k,” most people are probably going to take the 401k option.

            However, for managers and above, probably an attractive perk worth considering.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            It’s odd that the question of how much space and privacy white-collar workers need to be productive is even up for debate. There are a lot of white-collar workers, they do valuable work, and many of them work for large, sophisticated organizations that can afford to spend some money on research. You’d think this would be one of the most carefully studied issues in all of management literature.

            My suspicion is that the amount of space per employee you need before you stop seeing measurable changes in productivity is less than the amount you need before your employees stop complaining that lack of space is effecting their productivity.

            C.F. teaching/learning styles, where a lot of people insist that they learn better if taught in a particular way, but my understanding is that the evidence suggests that this is not actually the case.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Most employees would prefer better working conditions (friendlier, better gear or offices) to a higher salary, and it is a common mistake to think otherwise. So if you invest $4k per worker getting them an office, some if not all counts as compensation that will keep them working for you. And if you get more productivity that’s even better.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t think that’s accurate, but I guess it varies by industry. I don’t work FAANG. I’ve worked corporate accounting and I’ve worked plant accounting. The kinds of people stuck in ever-shrinking cubicles are making $50k-$80k/year. Putting them in a bigger cubicle is a big chunk of their compensation. Putting them in an office is mind-boggling.

            Just imagine going to an interview and being told that your salary is gonna by $5k lower…..BUT, your cubicle is 10×10 instead of 6×6! Isn’t that a sweet deal?

            Also, there’s wayyyyyyy better things to spend money if you want to retain workers. Parties, gifts, etc. This company and our my last company had full coffee bars, with baristas, fresh fruit and snacks, and beer taps in the employee cafeteria. Hell, if you’re throwing around thousands, you might as well send all of your employees to Disney World at a subsidized rate or something. You can probably get a discounted rate if you’re sending out everyone.

            Should also add that major companies are NOT afraid of spending more money if they think it will attract them talent. A lot of companies are shifting corporate HQs to much higher-priced urban offices in part to attract employees who want to work in the city.

            And, finally….again, disclaimer, not a FAANG employee: Most staff analysts can work just fine in a freaking open office. It’s annoying as hell, but successful staff will continue to perform well, because successful staff have talents that usually exceed staff responsibilities. These people are identified and promoted. Regular staff are going to make a crap ton of errors even if you give them an office because they are error-prone. They also are only going to work productively 4-5 hours a day anyways.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, there’s wayyyyyyy better things to spend money if you want to retain workers. Parties, gifts, etc. This company and our my last company had full coffee bars, with baristas, fresh fruit and snacks, and beer taps in the employee cafeteria. Hell, if you’re throwing around thousands, you might as well send all of your employees to Disney World at a subsidized rate or something. You can probably get a discounted rate if you’re sending out everyone.

            Oh yeah, because when I get my next electricity bill I can pay it in barter with the free fruit from the office canteen 🙂

            Stuff like this only works at a certain level of remuneration when you’re not concerned with how much of your pay packet is going on living expenses, and I rather imagine any employees who make too free use of the beer taps while at work will find themselves becoming ex-employees.

            If it’s a choice between “slightly more money”, “same money but can work in a reasonable space” or “same money, noisy crowded space but hey we’ll give you all the free coffee you can drink”, free coffee is going to be way down on my list of priorities when job-seeking.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The actual trade-off for the people we are trying to recruit is:
            A. 5% less pay to commute an hour every single day into the suburbs so work with the cast of the Office, but, hey, your cubicle is 10×10!
            B. Straight pay, take public transit 20 minutes to work in a city location with lots of restaurants and bars around you, lots of fun young people to work with…and you have to work in an open office, but we have free beer.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            Good point. If the people you want to attract are young singles who like living in crowded urban areas and can afford to, they won’t want to commute to the suburbs where rents are cheaper and parking is free, and you can give everyone more space.

            We see that a lot in the Bay Area. Some companies place themselves in San Francisco. Older potential employees probably live in the suburbs, and are faced with a horrific commute, expensive parking, and a tiny workspace. My bridge partner had to take such a job recently, and he’s absolutely loving the covid-19 lockdown, because working from home gives him 2 free hours every workday, as well as free parking and less expensive lunches – on top of not sitting in a sardine can.

            Most suburban-resident employees select themselves out of the applicant pool for such positions, unless they have no equivalent opportunities in better locations. Given age-related correlations, you can load your staff with youngsters without a hint of age discrimination.

            Other companies have two sites, one in the city and one in the south bay, and allow employees to pick their work location.

            Still others (Apple, Google) have their main buildings in suburbia, and run plush wifi and table equipped commuter busses down from the city, on which many employees accomplish a fair amount of work.

            And still others base themselves in the suburbs, and their applicant pool selects for older, stodgier, and more likely to have children.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Given a choice between productivity and even just the mere appearance of control – not actual control, just the illusion of it – a heck of a lot of managers pick b. This is a known bug in human wetware.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Well, my previous employer was more of a sales company than an engineering company, in spite of what they sold being highly technical. So the senior executive team understood (and identified with) sales and salespeople, but didn’t really understand engineers.

          Perhaps more importantly, the facilities budget would not be impacted by lost engineering productivity unless/until the company got itself into serious financial trouble; that would probably take long enough that the senior facilities decision makers would already have new employers.

          Finally, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. If the whole industry is doing it, your productivity is no worse than that of your competitors. And you (management) get the pleasure of micromanaging your peons, and having obviously better working conditions to emphasize your status.

          • albatross11 says:


            I think a whole lot of big decisions are made for cargo-cult/following the herd reasons, with rational justifications being spun up after the fact. Open offices seem likely to be one of those, but the world is full of them. Fads are extra-visible in management and education, but I think they’re everywhere.

          • Matt M says:

            Nobody will ever convince me that the reason every corporation has open offices now is anything other than “Because Google did it and Google is pretty cool so if we do it too people will think we’re cool like Google is”

          • cassander says: